WASHINGTON – Not one to let a perceived slight pass, Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson has ribbed reporters from local newspapers this season, asking why their baseball standings were listing tied clubs alphabetically, instead of putting the home team in front.
Well, on Monday morning, every sports section in the country had “Washington” atop the N.L. East, the latest in any season since 1933 that a major league team representing the city was in first place.
Despite a slew of injuries, despite few household names on a $47 million payroll, despite problems at the plate, the Nationals have morphed from the last-place Montreal Expos into a first-place team that wins the close ones, erases deficits night after night – and talks about contending in a division where everyone is over .500.
“It’s not a swagger. It’s a quiet confidence: Believe in yourself and believe in your teammates,” Robinson said.
“We have people here that don’t enjoy losing. It just doesn’t sit well with them. Not for a moment. They don’t like it, and they let it be known. That’s a real difference.”
A week ago, Washington came home from a 2-7 road trip. It responded by taking three of four games from Atlanta, then sweeping three from Florida, after trailing in every game against teams considered the class of the division.
“We definitely want to send a message to the rest of the N.L. East,” outfielder Ryan Church said, “that we’re here to stay.”
Overall, Washington trailed in 21 of 31 victories. Plus, the club is excelling in what Robinson calls “Tums and Rolaids games,” going 12-7 when the margin is one run.
“Those are the kind of wins that pump you up and build confidence,” third baseman Vinny Castilla said. “They tell you right there: We can do it.”
The wins keep coming, even if Robinson knows what the calendar says.
“I’m proud of where we are. It’s good to be there,” the Hall of Famer said. “But this is only June.”
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