- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2005

The bases were loaded with Cincinnati Reds. The RFK Stadium scoreboard showed no outs in the seventh inning and the Washington Nationals clinging to a one-run lead in a ballgame they simply had to win.

On the mound, right-hander John Patterson knew what the situation demanded: get three outs without letting a single runner cross the plate.

It’s one thing to know what must be done. It’s quite another to go out and do it, and that’s what has catapulted Patterson from a promising young pitcher with lackluster results into the bona fide ace who led his team to a 5-3 victory last night.

So when the Nationals’ best hurler corralled Felipe Lopez’s grounder to his left and tossed it to first baseman Nick Johnson for the final out of the seventh, he — and the crowd of 32,641 — let loose with a rare show of emotion. Patterson pumped his right fist several times, turned and jogged back to the dugout, cheered every step of the way by appreciative fans.

It was the defining moment of the game — and one of the defining moments of what has become Patterson’s breakout season.

“It was an emotional night for me,” he said. “I almost cracked. The stress was starting to get to me — the stress of all year. I had to try to find another gear to get out of it.”

Where would this team be without the 6-foot-5 right-hander from Orange, Texas?

“I can imagine, but I prefer not to,” manager Frank Robinson said. “He put it all together tonight, and we needed it.”

It’s hard to believe Washington (66-60) still would be in the thick of the National League wild-card race without Patterson, who is 8-4 with a 2.43 ERA after last night’s 81/3 innings.

He deserves a lot of the credit, though he did get some help against the Reds from a Nationals lineup that finally converted enough of its opportunities to win and from Chad Cordero, who reached a milestone by recording his league-leading 40th save.

“I never thought I would get 40,” the 23-year-old closer said. “That’s pretty cool, but I wouldn’t have been able to do it if we weren’t winning.”

After losing Tuesday’s series opener to the Reds in lifeless fashion, the Nationals desperately needed to win this one. Though they entered the night only two games back in the NL wild-card race, they had fallen into a fourth-place tie with the New York Mets.

They certainly seemed to come out with more fire last night, even if it took awhile to produce at the plate.

Washington gave itself plenty of scoring chances; at least one batter reached second base in each of the first four innings. The Nationals managed just one run over that time, though, Ryan Church scoring on Preston Wilson’s bases-loaded groundout in the first.

Fortunately for Washington, Patterson kept his team in the game. The pitcher, who has become just about the only sure thing on this club, faced the minimum over his first three innings. He suffered a slight setback in the fourth when he allowed a single and a run-scoring double but rebounded to keep the Reds off the scoreboard over the next four innings.

And thanks to Jose Guillen’s solo homer in the fifth, a rocket to left field off Ramon Ortiz, Patterson got the chance to pitch with a lead. It was Guillen’s second solo homer in as many nights at RFK after going nearly four months without hitting one at home.

“I just got a good pitch to hit, and I was able to make solid contact,” he said. “I never had an issue with this ballpark.”

Even with Guillen’s homer, the game was undecided when Patterson loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh. One slip-up could have cost him the game, yet he kept his poise. He got Edwin Encarnacion to ground to first, and Johnson fired home to retire the lead runner. Patterson then struck out pinch-hitter Jacob Cruz on a 1-2 fastball. He fell behind Lopez 2-0 but rallied back with two strikes and got what he needed: an easy groundball back to the mound for the final out.

“Any time you get in a situation like that, you see what somebody’s made of, how much heart they have,” catcher Brian Schneider said. “It’s not easy to do that when you look behind you and you’ve got bases loaded, nobody out. It shows a lot for someone to do that.”

Not that Patterson appeared to need any more cushion after the seventh, but the Nationals made sure they gave him some. They erupted for three insurance runs in the bottom of the inning, getting two-out RBI hits from Schneider and Vinny Castilla.

That proved vital in the end because Patterson, going for his second complete game this month, allowed a two-run homer by Javier Valentin with one out in the ninth. That brought Cordero in, and he responded as he has all year, striking out Encarnacion and Wily Mo Pena to end the game and reach the 40-save plateau faster than anyone in franchise history.

“No one that was around us in spring training could have imagined that he’d have 40 saves by now,” Robinson said.

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