Guillen, Osik Blast Homers as Nationals Win Exhibition Opener
Nationals 5, Mets 3
Wednesday, March 2, 2005; 5:12 PM
VIERA, Fla. -- Well, baseball fans, the first sneak peek at the Washington Nationals was a rousing success, from the stands to the scoreboard.
Playing their first game since leaving Montreal, the Nationals opened spring training Wednesday with a 5-3 victory over the New York Mets and their new manager, Willie Randolph. It was the first time since the Senators left for Texas after the 1971 season that Washington was represented on a major league diamond.
Optimism was the order of the day, neatly symbolized by the yellow smiley-face beach ball that fans kept afloat in the stands behind home plate. And what wasn't there to smile about? The sun was out, the home team played well -- and a win is a win, after all, spring training or not.
The Nationals hadn't even played an intrasquad game, and the players were eager to put aside drills for a day and play. After three years in limbo as the Montreal Expos, the team finally took to the field wearing home white uniforms with "Nationals" in red and gold across the chests.
"It did feel good once I put it on," second baseman Jose Vidro said. "And when I went out there, the people were cheering for us once the game started."
It must have been a nice change from the sparse support in recent years in Montreal, and there was plenty to applaud Wednesday.
Starter Tony Armas Jr., who missed most of the past two seasons after major shoulder surgery, worked two hitless innings with two strikeouts and pronounced himself "pain-free."
The three key new position players -- Cristian Guzman, Vinny Castilla and Jose Guillen -- each got a hit. Guillen's two-run homer to straightaway center tied the score at 2 in the fourth, while Vidro, who missed the final six weeks last season to have right knee surgery, singled and scored a run.
"It was special because of the situation. We're all aware of it. You always try to keep your perspective that it's an exhibition game," Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. "It's the next step, getting a little closer to the real thing, and you do get excited about that. You can't get too up, though."
Tell that to the fans.
An announced sellout of 7,558 began arriving more than five hours before game time, hoping for a photo, autograph -- or just a glimpse of a player. The line at the stadium gates was several dozen deep when they opened 1 1/2 hours before the first pitch.
"I've been here since 8 a.m. -- I don't want to miss anything," said Stephen Klatsky of Alexandria, Va., wearing a red Nationals pullover and gingerly holding a crisp white ball with fresh autographs.
"I've lived in the D.C. area since 1974, and I've been waiting for baseball ever since then. I'm probably (Orioles owner) Peter Angelos' nightmare. I went to 40 games a year in Baltimore, and now I won't need to go there for baseball."
During the second inning, the line of cars backed up on the one-lane road beyond left field stretched for at least half a mile, close to the nearby field where horses can be seen grazing.
Even the Mets were impressed by the turnout.
"It was pretty cool. It's not often that the first game of spring training is nationally televised. I'm happy for those guys," said New York starter Tom Glavine, who gave up two hits but no runs in two innings.
"It's just another venue that's going to be fun to go in there and play, even as an opposing player."
Chad Cordero struck out the side in the ninth for a save, putting the Nationals' first victory in the books. That was 2 hours, 33 minutes after the first pitch: a ball, outside, at 1:06 p.m.
Catcher Brian Schneider flipped the memento to the Nationals' dugout, perhaps mindful of the presence of new Mets first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, who got in a bit of a spat with the Boston Red Sox about the ball from the last out of the World Series.
And for the record, other firsts in Nationals history:
-- The first Nationals hit came at 1:15 p.m., when Guzman -- the free-agent shortstop from the Twins -- lined a 1-0 pitch up the middle. Alas, the team's first double play followed shortly, when Vidro grounded to Matsui to start a well-turned 4-6-3.
-- The first run allowed came on a hit to right in the fourth inning by Jason Phillips off Mike Hinckley, scoring Carlos Beltran from second. An error by Hinckley later in the inning helped set up a 2-0 Mets lead.
That might have been the sort of miscue expected from the old Expos, who went 67-95 last season while playing some "home" games in Puerto Rico.
"You come out every year with new life," outfielder Brad Wilkerson said. "Everyone's 0-0, trying to get that championship and win your division. The crowd was really good today, and, hopefully, we can just keep improving and bring some wins."
There was a smattering of Expos hats and jerseys in the stands, and a strong link to the team's past was present, too: Mets general manager Omar Minaya, Montreal's GM from 2002-04.
"Today is a great day. How can you not be happy for baseball, happy for Washington, happy for the players? I'm going to be a little emotional, because of what we've been through the past three years," Minaya said. "These guys are warriors, man."
i don't know when they got that many fans when they were playing real games in montreal
good to see them start off on the right foot though, should been an interesting season in the nl east.