- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2007

Chad Cordero routinely bails himself out of tight situations. Last night, the Washington Nationals decided to chip in and bail their closer out for a change, even if it took a little longer than they would have liked and featured countless agonizing moments.

Felipe Lopez’s sacrifice fly to left in the 13th scored Chris Snelling from third and gave the Nationals a 5-4 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies that let Cordero off the hook after he blew a save opportunity for the first time this year.

“You’ve got that lead in the ninth, and you want to finish it out,” catcher Brian Schneider said following a 4-hour, 16-minute marathon. “But we picked Chad up tonight. He just needs to forget about it and come out tomorrow and get us the save.”

In a game littered with missed opportunities on both sides, the Nationals (5-10) finally struck in the 13th. Snelling led off against Phillies reliever Francisco Rosario with a bloop single over the shortstop’s head. Michael Restovich, called up earlier in the day from Class AAA Columbus, then roped a double down the left-field line, putting runners on second and third for Lopez.

Washington’s hitters had been abysmal in such situations all night, going 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position. But Lopez, even without getting a base hit, did his job. He lofted a fly ball deep enough to left to bring Snelling home without a close play.

“We just fought, man, and we didn’t give up,” Snelling said. “That’s the best thing about this team. We could have easily given up [after the ninth], but we didn’t.”

Nationals manager Manny Acta needed to use just about every weapon at his disposal to secure the club’s fourth win in six games. He used all seven relievers out of his bullpen, with rookie Levale Speigner pitching the 13th for his first career win, and he used every player on his bench besides backup catcher Jesus Flores.

Of course, most of that wouldn’t have been necessary had Cordero finished things off in the ninth as planned. The Nationals closer had been flirting with disaster all season, whether loading the bases in Atlanta last week or putting two men on in New York during the weekend. Each time, though, the young closer found a way to get out of the jam and secure a Nationals win.

Not this time.

Cordero took the mound in the ninth clinging to a 4-3 lead, then proceeded to surrender leadoff singles to Pat Burrell and Wes Helms as the RFK Stadium crowd of 18,584 began to grow restless. A sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third and brought the Washington infield in. And when Carlos Ruiz dribbled a routine grounder to second, Ronnie Belliard had no chance of gunning down pinch-runner Michael Bourn at the plate. Bourn scored, tying the game at 4-4 and dealing Cordero his first blown save of the year.

“I felt fine,” the closer said. “For some reason, the first two guys and the first two pitches, I couldn’t find it.”

Both teams had chances to break the tie in extra innings. The Phillies put runners on the corners in the 10th but stranded them when Bourn flied out to left. They had men on first and second in the 11th, but Washington reliever Ryan Wagner came on to get Jimmy Rollins on a groundout to quash that rally.

The Nationals, meanwhile, got two hits apiece in the 10th, 11th and 12th, yet couldn’t push the winning run across. Things turned so ludicrous at that point, they ran a second Presidents’ Race in the middle of the 13th.

“We had them where we wanted them,” Acta said. “But I’m glad it worked out this way.”

All the late developments made it easy to forget Jason Bergmann’s dominating, 61/3-inning performance. Despite some early flirtation with trouble, Bergmann ultimately found his groove and turned in his second straight standout start.

A second-inning double by opposing pitcher Adam Eaton proved to be his last real mistake. He proceeded to retire the next 13 batters he faced, barely breaking a sweat until Pat Burrell led off the seventh with a groundball single and Aaron Rowand followed with a double just inside third base.

Bergmann dominated the Phillies’ lineup, at one point striking out five of seven hitters and often leaving them muttering to themselves as they walked back to the dugout in disbelief.

It helped that Bergmann was given some early run support from his mates, highlighted by one big blast from his catcher. Schneider stepped to the plate in the second with five RBI to his name this season. None of the five came on base hits (two sacrifice flies, a groundout, a fielder’s choice and a bases-loaded walk), making Schneider the first major leaguer in 11 years to do that.

But Schneider battled through a 10-pitch at-bat with Eaton before belting the right-hander’s 3-2 offering over the right-field fence for his first home run since Aug. 16, 2006.

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