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The Streak remembered: Jose Guillen

This would be the last installment of this (ill-conceived?) series. Thanks very much to those of you who read this project and who, like me, fondly remember June 2005. I'll turn this space over to the dude you see pictured above, Kilgore, who hadn't yet begun an illustrious career covering ball back then. As you've seen, he'll take great care of you.

Lastly: Where could the Nats find a corner outfielder like that dude who hit two bombs - and threatened for a third - against them last night? Fella by the name of Kearns, right? Guy's gotta be worth like $10 million, if you had an option to pay that kinda thing.

Back to the memories.

Game 10, June 12
Nationals 3, Mariners 2
W - Armas (3-3)
L - Franklin (2-8)
S - Cordero (19)

On the final game of the Nationals' longest homestand of the year - four series, 13 games, 12 victories - 37,170 people filed into RFK Stadium to send the Nationals off to the West Coast as a first-place team. They were, by that point, very comfortable in their new/old digs, even though the home clubhouse was cramped, even though the home dugout smelled.

"When we play here now, it's like we know we're going to win," closer Chad Cordero said. "The pitchers feel comfortable because it's a big park. The whole team gets pumped up by the crowd. It's a great fit for us, and it's going to be hard to leave. This place gives us so much confidence."

Tony Armas Jr. started that final game of the homestand, and he turned in a very Tony Armas Jr.-like performance - five innings, 107 pitches. (Man, I remember sitting through those things and scratching my eyeballs out.) But he allowed the Mariners no runs, stranding nine men. Junior Spivey (Junior Spivey?) hit a two-run homer in the second. Jamey Carroll, starting at shortstop in place of Cristian Guzman, hit an RBI single in the fourth. And Armas, Gary Majewski, Luis Ayala and Cordero made it all hold up.

And when Cordero got the final out, the Nationals celebrated on the field - and were reluctant to leave it. Manager Frank Robinson, on his way back to the clubhouse, paused three times and doffed his cap to the crowd, soaking up what may very well have been (until that Strasburg fellow) the high-water mark of baseball's return to Washington.

"The way we're playing, we certainly would like to stay right here, with the fans and the feel we have in this park," Robinson said. "I wish we had about two more weeks."

At the end of the day: 37-26, first place in NL East by 1-1/2 games over Philadelphia

Jose Guillen's place in the history of baseball will be insignificant, no doubt. He's a .271 career hitter with 208 home runs, a guy who has the ability to get hot and carry a team for a bit, someone who came up with the Pirates as a highly touted prospect, but not a game-changer, not an All-Star.

Yet that doesn't mean Guillen wasn't one of the most compelling (read: crazy) characters I've ever covered. He obviously came to Washington as damaged goods, enjoyed something of a renaissance for a few months here, and kind of departed as damaged goods again (after the 2006 season). I caught up with him in Baltimore when the Royals (for whom he serves as the designated hitter) came through town a couple weeks back. He might be a bit odd at times, but he loves to talk, so I turned on my recorder. As usual, he filled it up. (I still have the tape of Guillen calling Mike Scioscia a "piece of garbage." Man, that's a treasure.)

On Frank Robinson: "I know before I got there and I had that problem in Anaheim that I had, everybody thought that Frank and myself were not going to get along real well because he's kind of pretty much been an old-school guy and wouldn't take any crap. And to me, it was like, 'I'm not going to have a problem with this guy.' He's an old-schoool guy. He knows what this game is all about. I never talked to Frank about what happened in Anaheim the year before. He never asked me. He said he's never going to ask me. Just play hard and give me everything you have and that's pretty much what I did. Just play hard, work hard, be on time, respect him, respect all the rules that he has, and you know, I love the guy for all the support he giving me over there. But you have to respect all the rules that he has and do all the stuff that he asked you to do. I know there was a lot of stuff about, 'Why did Frank like you so much?' Why? Because I do everything he asked me to do. I believe if you do everything your boss asks you to do, I believe you're never going to have a problem."

Which, of course, glosses over the problems Guillen had with Robinson and the rest of the Nationals. But I digress.

On the infamous night in Anaheim and whether it was motivation for him or not: "It was, because the first thing that came to my mind after that little incident when we got the benches cleared, or whatever, with Frank and Mike, I love Frank. All the stuff he was battling for us, the support he give me that year, it kind of got me going. It was the heat of the moment. We all got in there. And that day, the best thing that happened, I didn't get into anybody.

"Who knows what could've happened? That would've been ugly. You're so mad. You remember all the stuff that happened. You're just kind of hoping for your teammates to get you out of there, and that's pretty much what happened when I saw some of my teammates pulling me out of there. Because I was really pretty much going after somebody. And who knows what could have happened in that moment? I just thank God that nothing happened. We just come up and win that game. And in that situation, when I came to bat, against one of the greatest relievers at that time in the game, it was like, 'This is my moment. I'm not letting this guy strike me out or something. I better do something right now.'"

Guillen, of course, followed with that line drive home run to left, which he told me was "the best ball that I hit in my whole entire career." Between that night and the All-Star break - a span of 23 games -- Guillen hit .374 with a .441 on-base percentage and a .703 slugging percentage with eight homers and 18 RBI.

On RFK, the bouncing seats - and the stench in the dugout: "That was pretty much like going back to Single A, A ball that I play. It was a big-league team, trust me. Everything was big-league. It was just the clubhouse that was like, well, you know."

"The whole stadium pretty much bounced. That was great. But the worst was in the - when the hot weather comes, the smell when you come around the corner [from the clubhouse to the dugout]. It was crazy. It was like a dead animal coming around there from somewhere. It was horrible. So bad."

On his dugout encounter with Esteban Loaiza after Pedro Martinez hit Guillen with a pitch: "I respect the game. I like the game to be played right. I love Loaiza, I wouldn't say like my dad, but almost, because he teached me so much when we were with Pittsburgh. It was just one of those situations that I feel like it was not right.

"To me, it's like I can be young, but my mind is [of] an old-school guy. I like old-school people, and I always feel like you got to protect your teammates, because we are the ones hustling there. You protect your pitcher. We protect you. And that's the way it should be played. And one of your veteran guys tell you, 'Go hit somebody. If you know it was on purpose, you go and do it. It doesn't matter what the situation of the game is. You go and do it.

"But I don't want to get hit two, three times , and then I don't want to have my teammates - one of my pitchers go and not do anything. I remember Frank got so [ticked]. Frank got so mad that day, we had some meetings and stuff. It was crazy. I was like, 'Dang, I just want you to hit somebody. I just want to feel protected.' That was kind of the same situation I have in Anaheim."

On his struggles this offseason, when he battled blood clots in his legs: "Last year I have lower back surgery and ankle surgery. I was dealing with some blood clots through my legs for such a period of time. I didn't think I was going to be playing this year. It was a moment I said, 'This is it.' I told my wife, 'I don't think I'm going to play. I don't' feel myself.' It was like all my strength is gone. It was a weird thing that was coming through my mind. The motivation was not there. And I remember my wife telling me, 'Just go there. If you cannot play, you're not going to let them have that $12 million. Just try your best.' I was like, 'I don't have it any more.'

"I spent 20 days in the hospital laying in the bed, blood clots through my legs and stuff. It was just kind of one of those things when - my legs were so big, kind of purple, it was just the weirdest thing that ever happened to me. I told my wife, 'I don't want to play any more. I don't want to do this. This is going to take a lot of work for me, my lower back and ankle and stuff and all these things I had in the past, the Tommy John and the shoulder reconstruction.'"

Obviously, he decided to play. He said the move to designated hitter was actually a smart one, because it's allowed his legs to come around.

"It was a lot of fun for me because of the way we all get along, the way the team was together," Guillen said. "And I believe we kind of surprised a lot of people the way we played, because nobody was expecting us to run away from people that first half in first place. It's one of the greatest first halves that I ever had in my career."

By Barry Svrluga  |  June 12, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
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Barry, as always, wonderful stuff. These things really ameliorated the dead-time during the week, for me. Loved them all, loved your book, love you (pause). Thanks for everything.

As for Guillen, man, that guy was a god in the first half of 05. Whenever we needed a big hit, he came through. Every single time. He'll always be my favorite Nat because he was the number one reason, IMO, we were out ahead like that. Great arm, gunned down a lot of people at home. Loved his "old-school mentality". Definitely a misunderstood guy, I think. But, he always gave it all he had out there.

Posted by: Imjustlikemusiq | June 12, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Barry, thanks for bringing back the memories. It was great to hear, five years later, how the player felt about it and how much they still remember it.

Nothing at all ill conceived here. A pleasure to read.

I can't wait for the day the Nats PA announcer again can say: "Your first place Washington Nationals!"

Posted by: nats24 | June 12, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Barry, Barry, Barry. It's not an ill-conceived series. I've enjoyed every post, as have others. You still have it, Blogfather! Come visit us here any time. :-)

Thanks for this piece, in particular. It gave me a new perspective on Guillen. That pine tar game was something else. I also recall Guillen playing a key role in the game where we came back from a large deficit against the Yanks in '06. My husband was ready to leave after Damon's grand slam and I talked him into staying. We were sure glad we did! Another fave Nats memory.


This would be the last installment of this (ill-conceived?) series.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | June 12, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and we were out and didn't see last night's game, but I have to say that despite the outcome I was very happy for the home team's corner outfielder: Austin Powers, I think it was? :-)

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | June 12, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

1a1 - it still hurts when I hear about the 06 yanx game. I'm one of the donks who left early

Posted by: Imjustlikemusiq | June 12, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Not to disagree, but Guillen struck me as a volatile component during the 2005 season, as he has been throughout his career. Good arm, but weak range in RF, had a very streaky bat, but was a great quote for the people covering the game.

Frank R. got the most out of him early & he helped the team, but gradually melted down as the season wore on, imo.

Posted by: BinM | June 12, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Guillen was one of our favorite players. (My wife replace him in her crush room with Soriano the next season, but I'm over it.) And that dust up with the Angels was about my favorite moment that season, one of the favorites for any season. I especially liked Frank's wife reaction, which was, if I recall, "He's not normal." I suppose he would wear on you over the long haul, but he was sure an entertaining ballplayer, and a good one when healthy.

By the way, I think the last paragraph in the Patterson interview caught perfectly how hard it must be for these guys when they have to give up the game. Great stuff.

Posted by: markfromark | June 12, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the memories, Bing (er, Barry). What's the name of the book and when does it come out?

Posted by: JamesWebster | June 12, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Since this is the last post in the series I have to comment now or forever be lost with what I have to try to communicate. On Memorial day in 2005, on a whim, my 14 year old daughter and I decided to attend a MLB game. It was the first time for both of us. We saw Frank R. get the home run call reversed and between that and just how cool the experience was, we were both hooked.

The winning streak that came after this cemented our love for this team. We learned to love baseball on the radio (most games were not yet on TV) and delved into the new-to-us history of this game. Who knew Babe Ruth was an awesome pitcher?

In this day and age what in heck could a teenage girl and a 40 something year old dad have in common? Baseball. We talked endlessly about averages, WHIP, MLB and their treatment of the Nats, Bowden etc. A common bond had been forged on a point of reference we both understood.

Fast forward to the Fall of 2006. My daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Her surgery would be difficult with a long hospital stay. I emailed Barry S. and he got back to me almost immediatly with the contact in the Nats front office to get a card or something sent while she was in the hospital.

On her third day in the intensive care unit a package from the Nationals arrived. It contained all kinds of nationals swag, a Nats teddy bear, Ryan Zimmerman dog tags and other stuff I don't remember. It also contained a letter stating that there was a baseball, signed by Nick Johnson. The rest of her stay, she did not sleep with the teddy bear. She slept with the baseball, signed by Nick Johnson.

Fast forward to 2008. My wife (who by now is also a Nats fan) had cancer surgery. In the ICU her surgeon came in to check up on her and we made small talk as she was pretty out of it. As part of the small talk I found out he was from Boston. So what in heck could I have in common with a super specialized highly educated surgeon? Our mutual hatred of yankees fans of course. During this, Roger Clemens was giving his testimony to congress live on the TV in the room. He sat down and we watched and discussed it for at least a half an hour, not as the guy who had his hands all up in my wifes guts, but as fan to fan. I am convinced my wife's care was the best it could be.

Fast forward to today. My wife is two years cancer free and my daughter is four years cancer free. I am here to tell everyone that will listen that baseball can have a real tangible effect on your life. I don't know what I would have done without it.

And tonight, my daughter who just finished her freshman year in college with a 4.0 average will be going to sleep with a baseball on her head board, signed by Nick Johnson.


Posted by: Eric157 | June 12, 2010 6:35 PM | Report abuse

Guillen was one of our best players and I follow him, Marlon Byrd and Jamie Carrolls contribution to their team every year. Most articles about Jose ignored he came to play every game and did his best for our team especially with men on base. The pitcher was under pressure with him at the plate. They hit him with pitches pretty often and no matter how intentional and painful he usually trotted to first base and depended on his teammates to get him home. In Kansas City he started strong then tailed off and got injured, seems like this year he has been his same productive intense self. Jamie and Marlon have both been competitive and consistent and both were free agents last spring, and play positions of Nats need,(2nd Base and Rightfield. I'm pretty sure I'm the only person who wanted us to sign them. They play the game to win no matter what others do around them. Marlon was young when here and you could see he was good, now he just produces in either league that signs him.

Posted by: DMcCall2 | June 12, 2010 10:55 PM | Report abuse

This has been a great series, Barry, thanks very much for putting it together for us. These are some of my favorite baseball memories, and it's been a pleasure revisiting them with one of my favorite baseball writers. Good work, brother.

Posted by: beardo1 | June 12, 2010 11:23 PM | Report abuse

Eric, thanks for a beautiful and moving post. Glad that your daughter and wife are both doing well now. One of the beautiful things about the game is how we can connect with others and find a commonality through our love of the game, imo.

ijltm, see, that's why you never leave early. :-)

DMcC, I was also a fan of Carroll and Byrd, and have followed the moves of both.

Barry, thanks again. Don't be a stranger here.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | June 13, 2010 7:29 AM | Report abuse

This was a terrific series. (If nothing else, it brought us Eric's comment. What a treat that was to read -- thank you, Eric.)

Me, I never liked Guillen that much as a ballplayer. For a lot of small reasons -- it'd take too long to list them, and it would be churlish anyway.

But since HBPs came up: man, he annoyed me. I mean, he stood so on top of the plate he was practically in the left-handed batter's box, but any pitch that grazed him was treated as a personal affront and a challenge to his manhood. Dude, if you're gonna stand there, you're gonna get hit. Just take your base.

A minor point, really. Again, thanks for the great series.

Posted by: Scooter_ | June 15, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

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