When Chad Cordero earned his 100th career save Tuesday night, it was fitting that he did so against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards.
The 25-year-old Cordero became the second-youngest pitcher ever to reach 100 career saves. Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez reached 100 the earliest, when he was 24 years old and 247 days.
Cordero passed a reliever — former Oriole reliever Gregg Olson — who had gotten his 100th save when he was 120 days older than Cordero at the time of his 100th save.
There is no reason to believe that Cordero won't reach 200 someday. Maybe 300, maybe more. Many had the same vision for Gregg Olson after he reached 100 and went on to save a Baltimore record 160 games by the age of 27.
But then Olson tore a ligament in his right elbow and was never the same. He struggled for a number of years as a setup man, and eventually came back to save 30 games for Arizona in 1998. He finished his career with 217 saves, short of the expectations placed upon him when he hit the 100-save mark.
That may be all that will stand in the way of Chad Cordero and a place among the elite closers in the history of the game — the uncertainty of a pitcher's arm. Otherwise, Cordero appears to have the right stuff to last a long time in the pressure-packed role.
"He doesn't throw exceptionally hard, but he makes great pitches, and has great command, with no fear," Orioles broadcaster and Hall of Famer Jim Palmer said.
Said Cordero: "I think I have the temperament to last in this role. I've been doing this since college. It is what I am used to, and have been doing it for a long time. I know I can go out there and do it for a real long time, as long as my arm allows me to go out there and do it. Hopefully I can go out there and do it for another 10 years or so. That would be great.
"I have been lucky enough to not have any real physical problems," he added. "I haven't had to go on the disabled list, so for me it is just a matter of staying healthy and being ready when they call on me. It's good to have the arm durability that I have."
Cordero is proud of reaching the century mark.
"It is great to be able to go out there and reach 100 saves," Cordero said. "It means to me that the managers, Frank [Robinson] and now Manny [Acta], have had confidence in me. That's what it really means to me — be ready whenever they call on me, go out there and pitch and do the best that I can. It shows that my managers trust me."
It takes talent, but it also takes a special makeup to reach that figure in such a short time while never playing for a team with a winning record.
"One hundred saves is a good accomplishment, especially considering the fact that he has spent these years with a franchise that has had some down seasons," Acta said. "Last year his opportunities for saves were minimized, so what he has done is even more impressive."
In 2004, Cordero's first full season as the-then Montreal Expos closer, he recorded 14 saves as the team finished 67-95. The next season — the franchise's first in the District — Cordero recorded 47 saves as the Nationals went just 81-81. Last season, Cordero managed 29 saves despite limited chances on a 71-91 club.
Acta, a former coach with the Expos, saw Cordero's major league debut after just 19 games in Class A ball.
"I was fortunate enough to have seen this kid since the day he came up," Acta said. "He came in with the bases loaded and two outs, facing [Ivan] Rodriguez in Miami, right out of [Class] A ball, and he got him out. I've seen him go through good and bad outings, and bounce back the next day. He doesn't show his emotions and I think he does have the perfect makeup."
Cordero does seem unflabbable, and unassuming as well — even after he won an arbitration hearing against the team this past spring and with it a $4.15 million contract this season. And he has come back from his struggles earlier this year since his return from bereavement leave after his grandmother's passing to return to his successful form.
"You are going to have ups and downs," Cordero said. "You have to stay focused during the rough spots. I've had some times when I've given up eight runs in two weeks. But you have to move on and be ready for the next game. You have to forget about it when something bad happens and be ready."
Cordero was ready again Thursday night, notching his 10th save of the season and the 101st of his career in a 3-1 win over Baltimore to complete a Nationals sweep. That ties him for fifth on the franchise career save list with Tim Burke and puts him just four away from his bullpen coach the first half of last year, John Wetteland. Jeff Reardon, with 152 saves, is the all-time franchise leader.
Cordero's 101st save leaves him 399 behind another reliever who recently reached a milestone: Padres closer Trevor Hoffman, who recently nailed down his record-setting 500th career save.
"Five hundred saves is quite an accomplishment," Cordero said. "It means you have to stay healthy for a long time. You have to have a lot of 30 to 40 save seasons. For him to do that is great. It shows how good he really has been and how important he has been to the Padres for so many years."
But Hoffman wasn't even in the major leagues at age 25.
The question that looms over Cordero, though, is will he be able to be as important to the Nationals for so many years as Hoffman was to the Padres? Or will Cordero, who likely will be a very valuable commodity, be dealt away at the trading deadline in the Nationals' quest to build up their farm system?
Will Cordero even record his 200th career save in a Washington Nationals uniform?
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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