- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2005

Frank Robinson already had seen his bullpen take the loss in two straight games last week and then nearly blow it Saturday night, so few would have faulted the Washington Nationals manager if he felt a little uneasy about handing over yesterday’s tight game against the Chicago Cubs to his relief corps.

Ten outs later, Robinson and the near-sellout crowd of 44,103 at RFK Stadium were able to breathe a sigh of relief. The Nationals’ bullpen didn’t just hold up, it seized control of the game, never let it go and ensured a satisfying, 5-4 victory over the Cubs.

?They did the job,? said Robinson, whose club took two of three from Chicago and has won four of its last five series. ?Lately, they’ve been giving up a run here and there. Today, they came in and made it look a little easier. They didn’t make me sweat as much as yesterday.?

A club strength through much of the season’s first six weeks, the Nationals’ bullpen had begun to show signs of wavering in recent days. Jon Rauch and Luis Ayala took consecutive losses Wednesday and Friday, and closer Chad Cordero nearly blew a two-run lead Saturday night.

There were no shaky moments yesterday, only a lights-out performance from Ayala, Cordero and Hector Carrasco, who combined to retire 10 of the 11 batters they faced.

Carrasco recorded the biggest out of them all, coming in to relieve starter John Patterson in the sixth with the bases loaded, two out and the game tied 4-4. The journeyman right-hander needed one pitch against Cubs leadoff man Corey Patterson — a slider — to induce an inning-ending pop-out.

?I was hoping that they would score nothing, but I probably would have settled for one,? Robinson admitted. ?[Carrasco] did the job for me there. That was a big moment in the ballgame.?

That moment became even bigger when Ryan Church came around to score from second after Chicago second baseman Neifi Perez botched Cristian Guzman’s slow roller. Perez’s second error of the inning gave Washington a 5-4 lead and Carrasco his first major league win since Sept.4, 2003.

?That’s pretty good. I came in, threw one pitch and won the game,? said Carrasco, who has an 0.96 ERA in 12 games this season. ?Guys here were telling me, ‘You throw one pitch, and you win the game. We throw 130 or 140 pitches, and we don’t win sometimes.’ That’s baseball.?

Once the Nationals took the lead, Ayala and Cordero made sure they didn’t give it back. Ayala surrendered one harmless single in two innings of work. Cordero then pitched a perfect ninth, striking out Perez to end the game, earn his ninth save and erase the memory of sub-par outings the previous two nights.

?Last night, I think I was trying too hard,? he said. ?Today, I think I was a little more under control. I felt better.?

The way the Nationals and Cubs kept trading blows for six innings yesterday, it wasn’t surprising the game would come down to the bullpens. Both Patterson and Chicago veteran Greg Maddux battled to keep things from getting out of hand, each surrendering four runs and seven hits.

Both also battled the infamous RFK mound, which was rebuilt while the Nationals were out of town last week but continues to draw the ire of pitchers from both clubhouses. Maddux called for the grounds crew to work on the mound during the fifth, then proceeded to throw seven straight balls to Jose Guillen (who walked) and Nick Johnson (who ultimately homered into the mezzanine level high above the right-center field fence).

When Patterson took the mound the next inning, he immediately asked for more work to be done, then walked the leadoff man, gave up a game-tying double to Jason Dubois, a single and another walk to load the bases. Sensing his starter’s unease, Robinson wasted no time yanking Patterson (who had only thrown 86 pitches to that point) and calling upon Carrasco to get out of the inning.

?I don’t know what my pitch count was, but at that point there was a lot of frustration going on out on the mound,? Patterson said. ?Frank was definitely watching that.?

Robinson’s move worked to perfection. Carrasco got out of the jam with his one pitch, and the Nationals cruised the rest of the way to capture the three-game series from the Cubs and improve to 20-17 for the season.

?It was important that we kept the momentum going,? Robinson said. ?After the way we played the first ballgame, I thought it was very important to come back and take this series and get the momentum going into the next series.?

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