- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2007

Chad Cordero stared in for the sign from Brian Schneider. At the plate stood Jayson Werth, hoping to complete a last-ditch rally by driving in the tying runners perched on first and second bases.

The Washington Nationals led the Philadelphia Phillies 5-3 with two outs in the ninth, and RFK Stadium was bouncing and swaying one last time.

Inside a crowded home dugout, Manny Acta noticed team owner Ted Lerner nervously waiting for the final out to be recorded so he could take part in postgame ceremonies. Acta started to worry.

“Ted is just standing there waiting for the game to be over,” the manager said. “And I’m like, ‘Come on, Chief. You know the guy’s 81 years old. He doesn’t need to be put through this.’ ”

It was perhaps appropriate that the final ballgame at RFK went down to the final pitch, that Cordero closed down the old girl with one more ninth-inning escape act and that the final score was identical to that of the Nationals’ first game here in 2005 against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Washington’s tough-as-nails reliever blew a fastball past Werth, the Nationals (including a relieved Lerner) gathered on the field to celebrate a narrow victory and a crowd of 40,519 erupted with glee after the home team won the last game in this park.

“You don’t want to leave RFK on a bad note,” Cordero said. “To be able to go out there and get this win, it really means a lot to us.”

A day of reflection and celebration was highlighted by the Nationals’ come-from-behind win. Trailing 2-1 in the sixth, they tied the game on Austin Kearns’ RBI single up the middle, then took the lead when Phillies reliever Geoff Geary plunked Jesus Flores with the bases loaded.

Flores, who had to leave the game with a badly bruised left elbow, said the payoff made the pain worth it.

“Oh yeah, for sure,” the rookie catcher said. “That’s why I was there, to try to hit the ball and bring the run in. He hit me, but I can do nothing about that.”

Another RBI single by Robert Fick and a sacrifice fly by Brian Schneider in the eighth added a couple of insurance runs and set the stage for Cordero to close it out in the ninth, even if he left a few hearts fluttering during those final tense moments.

“I really wanted it to be easier,” Acta said. “But we got it done. He got it done. That’s what’s important.”

The Washington victory, preventing the Phillies from completing a four-game sweep, capped a memorable afternoon on East Capitol Street. The largest crowd of the season packed itself into this multipurpose facility that saw its first baseball game (Senators 4, Tigers 1) on April 9, 1962.

Seven former Senators players, headlined by slugger Frank Howard and right-hander Dick Bosman, took the field with their current counterparts. Bosman threw out the ceremonial first pitch as Howard (the previous face of Washington baseball) talked baseball and mammoth home runs with the current face of the franchise. The 6-foot-7 “Capital Punisher” left quite an impression on the youngster.

“He’s a big guy,” the 6-foot-3 Zimmerman said. “You don’t realize how big he is. Now I can kind of believe those white seats a little bit more.”

Story Continues →