- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 25, 2006

BALTIMORE — A game that took nearly six hours to complete because of two rain delays was settled in just seven minutes as Washington Nationals closer Chad Cordero lost another game in the ninth inning.

Cordero was up in the Nationals bullpen before the game was stopped at 7:55 p.m. prior to the bottom of the ninth. After a 2 hour, 18-minute rain delay, Cordero was up warming again, this time on Camden Yards’ pitcher’s mound. When Cordero walked Luis Matos, the Baltimore Orioles’ No. 9 hitter, the All-Star closer knew he was in trouble.

With two outs, Orioles catcher Ramon Hernandez singled to left field off Cordero for the game-winning hit, as the Orioles defeated the Nationals 3-2 in a marathon last night at Camden Yards. Cordero (2-3 with a 3.34 ERA) took the loss.

“Last year happened and that was it, last year is done with,” Cordero said of his all-star season. “I’ve got to go out there and pitch the way I can. If I have another good year, I have another good year. I can’t worry about people expecting too much of me because if they want to do that, that’s what they’re going to do. I can’t be worried about that. I just have to go out there and worry about doing my job.”

The Nationals (32-44) extended their losing streak to five games and are just 3-11 since June 9. With the win, the Orioles (35-41) clinched the three-game series after losing two of three to the Nationals May 19-21 at RFK Stadium.

“We’re not clicking right now,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “We’re not on any cylinders and I really don’t know why.”

The Nationals, who are in a hitting slump, had just five hits. Alfonso Soprano went 0-for-4 with a walk. The Nationals are 3-17 this season in games in which Soriano starts and goes hitless.

“I don’t know. It’s part of the game, like I said before, sometimes you feel good at home plate. Sometimes you lose your motion,” said Soriano, whose batting average dropped to .278.

The first rain delay knocked out Nationals starter Mike O’Connor. When O’Connor was a boy growing up in nearby Ellicott City, Md., he idolized the Orioles when they were good and led by stars such as Cal Ripken Jr. and Mike Mussina. So, naturally, it was like a dream come true for the left-hander to pitch in the same stadium where he watched the 1997 American League Championship Series as a fan.

On Friday, O’Connor said it would be “pretty cool” to pitch against the Orioles in Camden Yards. He left about 20 tickets for family and friends, most of them high school teammates.

O’Connor pitched well, allowing just two runs on his six hits and one walk in six innings. He probably could have pitched another inning, but a 26-minute rain delay was too much to overcome, even though he had thrown just 80 pitches and lowered his ERA to 3.39.

“They told me about 30 minutes after it started raining that I was done — too many pitches at that point,” O’Connor said. “After that, I was kind of hanging out, not really worried or trying to think about the game too much.”

The Orioles struck first in the second inning when Hernandez gave them a 1-0 lead with his 13th home run of the season.

The Nationals took a 2-1 lead in the third when a Royce Clayton groundout to second scored Soriano and as Ryan Zimmerman snapped a 0-for-16 drought with a double into the right-field corner, scoring Jose Vidro.

Baltimore tied the game 2-2 in the fifth on Brian Roberts’ RBI single to left.

In the ninth, the Nationals were able to do what the Orioles couldn’t do the inning before — execute a sacrifice bunt. After catcher Brian Schneider singled off Orioles reliever Todd Williams to lead off the inning, pinch hitter Marlon Anderson dropped down an excellent bunt that moved Schneider to second and into scoring position.

But Soriano grounded to Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada. Schneider ran on contact and Tejada threw out Schneider at third, essentially ending the Nationals’ scoring threat. The next batter, Vidro, grounded out to second to end the inning and the Nationals’ best chance to win the game.

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