Rollicking crowd sees Nationals' first game

Posted: Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Washington Nationals played their first game with all the fanfare of opening day — not an exhibition opener.

Fans lined up at the stadium gates several dozen deep 1 1/2 hours before the first pitch Wednesday, there was a half-mile traffic jam — after the game had started — and every seat was sold out.

Playing for the first time since leaving Montreal, the Nationals beat the New York Mets, led by new manager Willie Randolph, 5-3 at Viera, Fla.

''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.''

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 and a curly white ''W'' on their hats reminiscent of the old Senators' caps.

''It did feel good once I put it on,'' said second baseman Jose Vidro, who played his entire 8-year career with Montreal. ''And when I went out there, the people were cheering for us once the game started.''

There were a lot of positive signs Wednesday for the Nationals, who went 67-95 as the Expos.

Starter Tony Armas Jr., who missed most of the past two seasons after major shoulder surgery, worked two hitless innings with two strikeouts. He threw 28 pitches and pronounced himself ''pain-free.''

The three key new position players — Cristian Guzman, Vinny Castilla and Jose Guillen — each got a hit. Vidro, who missed the final six weeks last season to have right knee surgery, singled and scored a run.

For the Mets, Kaz Matsui looked comfortable in his first game at second base since switching from shortstop, Carlos Beltran singled and scored New York's first run and Tom Glavine pitched two scoreless innings with two strikeouts.

On the day Washington fielded a team for the first time since the Senators left for Texas in 1971, baseball's Veterans Committee failed to elect a player to the Hall of Fame for the second straight time.

Gil Hodges and Ron Santo fell eight votes shy of the necessary 75 percent, with each appearing on 52 ballots (65 percent) in totals announced Wednesday. Tony Oliva (45) and Jim Kaat (43) were the only other players to be picked on more than half of the 80 ballots.

The revamped committee includes all living members of the Hall and its writers' and broadcasters' wings, plus one holdover from the old Veterans Committee.

''It's almost impossible to go into the Hall of Fame the way the system is now,'' said Oliva, a former Twins batting champion and guest coach for Minnesota during spring training.

One Hall of Famer honored Wednesday was Jackie Robinson, who was posthumously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal, more than half a century after breaking baseball's color barrier.

At Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Melvin Mora was struck in the head with a fastball thrown by John Maine during a Baltimore Orioles intrasquad game.

The injury was not serious, but manager Lee Mazzilli removed Mora from the game as a precaution.

In other exhibition games: Braves 12, Georgia Tech 0

At Kissimmee, Fla., Zach Miner and four other minor leaguers combined on a no-hitter for Atlanta.

Miner, Daniel Curtis, Macay McBride and Anthony Lerew each worked two hitless innings.

Pirates 12, Manatee CC 0

Bradenton, Fla. Edwards Guzman hit a grand slam and drove in five runs, and No. 5 starter candidates Ryan Vogelsong and Dave Williams each pitched two scoreless innings.

Cardinals 8, Florida Atlantic 2

Wilton Guerrero, competing for a reserve spot with the Cardinals, went 2-for-2, and Carmen Cali, a Florida Atlantic alumnus, pitched a perfect ninth for St. Louis.

Dodgers 4, Marlins 2

At Vero Beach, Fla., Scott Erickson pitched two scoreless innings, Buddy Carlyle added three more and Ricky Ledee hit a two-run homer off A.J. Burnett for Los Angeles.

Tigers 2, Florida Southern 2, 10 innings

At Lakeland, Fla., Nate Robertson struck out two in the first inning for Detroit, and Wilfredo Ledezma, the Tigers' likely fifth starter, gave up one hit and struck out two in the second.

Devil Rays 5, Navy 2

At St. Petersburg, Fla., Tampa Bay's Doug Waechter, who missed much of the 2004 season because of a strained tendon in his right middle finger, allowed one run and two hits in two innings.

Rockies 8, White Sox 4

At Tucson, Ariz., Jeff Baker hit a three-run homer in the top of the ninth inning to give Colorado a win.

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