- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2005

ATLANTA — Don’t count out the Washington Nationals just yet.

With John Patterson, their best pitcher in the second half of the season, forced out of the game in the third inning last night because of stomach cramps, the Nationals seemed doomed, especially against an Atlanta Braves team that swept them out of first place a little more than a month ago.

But relievers Jason Bergmann, Hector Carrasco, Gary Majewski and Chad Cordero combined for 61/3 scoreless innings as the Nationals edged the Braves 3-2 before 20,001 at Turner Field.

The victory left the Nationals (68-63) just 11/2 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies and Florida Marlins in the race for the National League wild card and six games behind the Braves in the NL East. Two victories in today’s doubleheader — necessary because of Monday’s rainout from Hurricane Katrina — could leave the Nationals in good position for the wild card, while a pair of losses could leave them reeling.

Cordero pitched the ninth and picked up his league-leading 42nd save in 46 opportunities. Bergmann (1-0) earned his first major league win by pitching 21/3 innings.

“We needed [the bullpen] tonight, and they did a tremendous job,” manager Frank Robinson said of his bullpen.

Robinson needed the bullpen after Patterson fell apart in the third inning. Patterson cruised for the first two innings, retiring six of the first seven batters he faced. But he lost his control in the third inning, started sweating profusely and turned pale with Atlanta ahead 1-0 and two outs. The Braves had runners at first and second and Chipper Jones at the plate.

“[My stomach] didn’t feel good all day today, but it wasn’t something I was really worried about,” Patterson said.”

That’s when things got weird. Pitching coach Randy St. Claire and trainer Tim Abraham went to the mound to check on Patterson, then the infielders converged on the mound. Finally, manager Frank Robinson came out and motioned to the bullpen for another pitcher.

Bergmann trotted out of the Nationals’ bullpen, apparently ready to make his second big league appearance. Umpire Larry Vanover went out to the pitcher’s mound, Patterson started to warm up again and Robinson waved Bergmann into the dugout.

According to baseball’s substitution rules, Bergmann officially wasn’t in the game unless he was recognized by Vanover or had reached the mound. Since Bergmann never reached the infield, he could be sent back to the dugout.

“I guess there was a little miscommunication out there,” Bergmann said. “The bullpen coach [Bob Natal] said, ‘Go, you’re in.’ I get down there, and Mr. Robinson gives me a puzzled look, and the umpire comes over and says, ‘They didn’t call for you.’ I was like, ‘What?’ ‘They didn’t call for you. You’re not in.’ ‘OK.’ I ran back into the dugout, and when they came in I was like, ‘Was that my rookie prank?’”

Patterson, who received a no-decision, got off to a rocky start to the third inning when Johnny Estrada opened the inning with a double to right-center field. With one out, Estrada advanced to third when Kelly Johnson grounded into a fielder’s choice. Marcus Giles gave the Braves a 1-0 lead when he stroked a two-out single to left that brought home Estrada and the Braves led 1-0.

In hindsight, Robinson left Patterson in the game too long. Patterson entered the game with a 2.43 ERA — third best in the National League — and has demonstrated outstanding control all season. Patterson promptly walked Chipper Jones to load the bases.

Up next comes Andruw Jones, the NL’s home run leader with 42. Patterson probably did the smart thing by walking the dangerous Andruw Jones which gave the Braves a 2-0 lead.

Patterson, who entered this game having won four of his last five starts, had only walked just nine batters all month — nine walks in 38 innings. Robinson had to know something was wrong when Patterson walked three batters in the inning alone.

By then, it was Bergmann’s time.

With the bases still loaded, Bergmann got Adam LaRoche to groundout to first baseman Nick Johnson and the rookie reliever escaped from the inning without any further damage.

Patterson’s strange exit must have woken up the Nationals dead bats. Nationals slugger Jose Guillen snapped the club’s 24-inning scoreless streak with his 24th home run of the season. Guillen’s bomb — a towering solo shot to left off Sosa — was the 21st home run he’s hit on the road this season. Guillen’s homer cut the deficit to 2-1 in the fourth inning.

The Nationals rallied again in the fifth inning and took a 3-2 lead. Bergmann, who the Nationals called up from Class AAA New Orleans on Sunday, recorded his first major league hit with a single to center field off Sosa. Bergmann tied the game 2-2 after Jose Vidro drove him in with a line drive to the gap in right-center field. However, Vidro was cut down at third on the play, but at least the Nationals tied the game.

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