- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 16, 2006

MIAMI — As bad as the last two weeks have been for the Washington Nationals, there are still occasional reminders that not everything is wrong with this downtrodden club.

They just have been too few and far between to date.

Not last night. When John Patterson struck out 13 Florida Marlins batters en route to a 2-1 victory, it allowed the Nationals and their frustrated fans to remember, if only briefly, that not all hope is lost. Whatever happens this season, Washington can take solace in the fact that Patterson will be pitching every fifth day.

And if he keeps pitching like this — allowing one run on three hits over eight spectacular innings while matching his career high in strikeouts — the Nationals (3-9) actually might have a chance to win a few ballgames.

“I can’t emphasize how badly we needed that,” said manager Frank Robinson, whose club snapped a six-game losing streak. “And it came at the right time.”

Said Patterson: “It was a big game for everybody tonight. We needed that.”

Of course, Patterson’s effort last night would not have been enough without help from closer Chad Cordero, left fielder Alfonso Soriano and second baseman Brendan Harris.

Soriano capped Patterson’s evening by gunning down pinch-hitter Wes Helms trying to stretch a base hit off the left-field wall into a double in the eighth. One inning later, Cordero came on to record his long-awaited first save of the season, one that would not have been possible without Harris’ fully extended grab of Josh Willingham’s liner with two outs and two on.

“I think I’m going to have to go out and buy him a dinner,” Cordero said of Harris, who was filling in at second while Jose Vidro recovers from a hamstring injury.

Said Harris of his game-saving catch: “Luckily, I timed it right at the peak of my jump. That was about as high as I was going to get.”

Harris was speaking in the literal sense, but he might well have been referring figuratively to Patterson’s pitching performance. It’s hard to imagine the tall right-hander being any higher than he was in this one.

The Nationals hadn’t seen this side of Patterson yet this season; he gave up a combined seven runs in 10 innings through his first two starts. But he was coming off an outstanding spring, and it figured to be only a matter of time before he put it all together in a regular-season game.

From the start, it was obvious Patterson (1-0) was in top form. He struck out six of the first seven batters he faced, five of them on called third strikes, several of them on what Marlins cleanup hitter Mike Jacobs referred to as a “Bugs Bunny curveball.”

If those sharp-breaking benders weren’t a sign the right-hander was in a groove, it’s hard to imagine what would have been.

“When I came to the ballpark today, I had a feeling,” he said. “I don’t mean that to sound cocky or anything, but I had a good feeling today. I was real relaxed. I felt good.”

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