- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2006

ATLANTA — Maybe it’s just inevitable. Maybe the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves are destined to play these kind of games — tense, one-run affairs — almost every time they meet. And maybe Chad Cordero’s fate is going to be right in the middle of it each time.

It certainly makes for great theater, Cordero standing on the mound in the ninth inning, trying to preserve the Nationals’ one-run lead against his rival.

When it doesn’t go Cordero’s way, as has been the case more than he’d like to remember over the last two seasons, there’s nothing more demoralizing. But when it does go his way, as it did last night in Washington’s 5-4 victory at Turner Field, it’s an uplifting experience for the Nationals.

“It’s exciting. It gets your blood pumping,” catcher Brian Schneider said after Cordero stranded the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth to secure the Nationals’ fifth straight win. “We’ve been in that situation a couple of times before, so obviously you’re going to get a little worried. But you get put in those situations so many times, you start getting used to it.”

The situation last night wasn’t much different than it was four weeks ago in this same venue, when Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur hit a walk-off grand slam against Cordero. Or the time at RFK Stadium last September, when Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones hit back-to-back homers off the young closer. Or the time … well, you get the idea.

All that changed last night was the outcome, much to the chagrin of the 20,702 in attendance. Instead of serving up the game-winner, Cordero buckled down when he needed to most. Despite loading the bases with two outs on an Edgar Renteria double and a pair of walks to the Joneses, the Washington closer got Adam LaRoche to smash a hard grounder right at second baseman Jose Vidro, who calmly threw to first to end the game, securing Cordero’s 10th save of the season.

“Yeah, I know they’ve had a lot of success against me in the past,” Cordero said. “But I’ve just got to move on, go out there and get the three outs they’re asking me to get. Each game I face them is a new time. I can’t worry about what they did to me in the past. It’s the past. I can’t get that back.”

Washington manager Frank Robinson had an inkling it would come down to Cordero once again. Three hours before yesterday’s game he insisted there would be no trepidation in handing the ball to the young right-hander should the situation arise, spotty record against the Braves or not.

“None whatsoever,” Robinson said. “I think he’s fine. He went through a stage with [Atlanta]. I don’t think he has any mental scars about facing this ballclub. And I’d be very surprised if he showed them.”

He nearly did. After retiring the first two batters of the inning, Cordero admitted he lost command of all three of his pitches. Hence the Renteria double to deep right, the walk to Chipper Jones on a full count and the four-pitch walk to Andruw Jones.

But he threw a 2-2 fastball to LaRoche, then breathed a sigh of relief as Vidro handled the sharp grounder.

“This team hits Chad very well,” Schneider said. “Chad knows it. Everyone knows it. The Braves know it. It’s great that Chad came back. He’s had a lot of bad games against these guys. For him to overcome that … that’s all that matters.”

The nip-and-tuck ninth was the nightcap to a compelling game, one in which the Nationals took advantage of some shoddy Atlanta defense in the sixth to score five runs, taking a 5-2 lead. That helped Livan Hernandez (5-5) earn his fourth straight win, his first against the Braves in six season. In 15 previous starts since Aug. 18, 2000 against Atlanta, the right-hander was 0-11 with a 5.95 ERA.

He snapped that streak last night, despite surrendering a two-run homer to Francoeur in the bottom of the sixth that trimmed the lead to 5-4.

“I’m not thinking about my record against the Braves,” Hernandez said. “I’ve had good games and bad games. You have trouble sometimes with one team. This happens to a lot of pitchers.”

If not for the stellar work of his bullpen, Hernandez would not have earned the win. Before Cordero entered the game, Gary Majewski, Mike Stanton and Jon Rauch shut out the Braves in the seventh and eighth innings.

The rest was up to Cordero. And though he made the ninth innings exciting, Cordero got the job done, carrying the Nationals to their fifth straight win, one that may give them some momentum.

“I guess whenever we get together with the Braves, it’s going to be this kind of game,” Robinson said. “These are the ones they’ve been pulling out. So maybe it’s a sign the tide is turning.”

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