WASHINGTON - If there is a Washington Nationals formula for success, last night's game was the prototype.
A taut, one-run game. The stands shaking in the late innings at RFK Stadium. A fist-pumping Chad Cordero save. Another win.
The Nationals might as well call the patent office to reserve a spot for their 2-1 triumph over the Pittsburgh Pirates, their 13th victory in their past 14 home games.
It wasn't pretty - the Nationals took advantage of a key Pittsburgh error in the fourth inning - but the win demonstrated Washington's aptitude for winning one-run games, a key to the team's success all year.
"Maybe somebody up there looks after you when things are going good," Nationals manager Frank Robinson said.
The win was especially sweet because it came with first baseman Nick Johnson, the club's RBI leader, missing his first game with a bruised heel. The club is also without injured second baseman Jose Vidro. And outfielder Jose Guillen was nursing ankle and shoulder injuries but managed to play.
Guillen, who doubled and scored, said he was particularly motivated to play because he had visited injured military veterans at a hospital Monday and invited a few dozen to last night's game. "I got really motivated because I invited those people from the hospital today. I bought like 30 tickets for them. I visited the hospital yesterday, and it was the first time I had seen something like that," he said.
Cordero pitched a scoreless ninth to tie a 9-year-old franchise record with his 23rd straight save. "That's pretty cool to do something like that," the closer said. "I hope I can keep it going. Every time I go out there I learn something new."
Before Cordero's appearance, Ryan Drese (2-1) pitched eight strong innings. He had lasted only three innings in his prior game - also against the Pirates.
Drese kept getting out of jams.
In the sixth, he survived Guillen's two-base error that enabled Jason Bay to end up on third on his two-out single to right-center. The next batter, Daryle Ward, grounded out.
In the seventh, the Pirates put runners on second and third with no outs. But shortstop Cristian Guzman nailed Rob Mackowiak at the plate on Jose Castillo's grounder. Drese then recorded a strikeout and a groundout.
Trailing 1-0, the Nationals took advantage of a key misplay to take the lead in the fourth.
Guillen was hit by a pitch and Vinny Castilla walked. Pitcher Josh Fogg fielded Marlon Byrd's bunt and fired an errant throw past third, enabling Guillen to score. Castilla, who moved to third on the play, made it 2-1 on Wil Cordero's sacrifice fly.
"We needed a win tonight. One mistake was the difference. We'll take it," Drese said.