- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2007

From his perch in the Washington Nationals’ dugout, Manny Acta felt as confident as a manager can. His team led by a run with two outs in the ninth inning, the New York Mets had nobody on base and Chad Cordero was on the verge of finishing off the Nationals’ third straight win.

More than an hour later the game finally ended, but hardly in the fashion Acta had expected it would. The Mets rallied to tie the game off Cordero, then won it with a four-run rally in the top of the 12th, walking out of RFK Stadium with an improbable 6-2 victory before 29,292 stunned fans.

“We let them off the hook,” Acta said. “That’s the situation I want to be … two outs in the ninth and nobody on. We just let them off the hook.”

Stymied at the plate most of the night, the Mets won the game with a flurry of hits in the 12th. Damion Easley led off with a double, Ramon Castro drew a walk and Jose Reyes beat out a perfectly placed bunt to load the bases and knock Saul Rivera (0-1) out of the game.

In came Ryan Wagner, whose struggles this month have left him vulnerable to a demotion to Class AAA. Last night’s performance will only add to that possibility. Despite getting a force out at the plate when Paul Lo Duca grounded to a drawn-in infield, Wagner promptly surrendered a Carlos Beltran smash past first baseman Robert Fick.

Beltran wound up on second with a two-run double, giving the Mets the lead. And moments later, David Wright put a final stamp on the Mets comeback, drilling a two-run single to left that all but quashed any hope of one last Washington rally.

“It’s a game of inches,” Acta said. “The ball to Fick, maybe a foot or two feet closer to him, we’ve got a double play. But that’s the game.”

The game appeared to have swung the Nationals’ way in the eighth when Ronnie Belliard doubled off the left-field wall to score Jesus Flores and break a 1-1 tie.

But for the third time in six tries, Cordero couldn’t close out the game and record a save. Cordero nearly ended the ninth on Easley’s slow bouncer to short, but Easley narrowly beat Felipe Lopez’s throw to first to keep the inning alive.

Still, Cordero came within inches of escaping in dramatic fashion. With two outs and two on, pinch-hitter Julio Franco laced a single to right. As Endy Chavez came racing around third, everyone in the stadium knew a play at the plate was forthcoming.

Right fielder Austin Kearns did his part, firing a bullet to Flores. The rookie catcher caught the ball on the fly, ahead of the runner, then turned to apply the tag. But Chavez slid to the outside and barely touched the plate before Flores’ glove touched him. Umpire Greg Gibson signaled safe, the crowd erupted in displeasure and the Nationals turned despondent after Cordero’s latest blown save.

“I just tried to catch the ball in the dirt,” Flores said. “I know if I wait for the ball over home plate, it’s going to be a difficult play. The ball might bounce. I’m not sure about it, but I think it was close.”

The late-inning drama rendered a remarkable start by Jerome Williams moot.

Williams entered on thin ice, also a possible candidate to be demoted, and he wasn’t exactly a model of efficiency. He actually threw more balls (45) than strikes (40) but got the job done, overcoming five walks to carry an unlikely no-hitter into the sixth.

But the Washington hurler finally surrendered a line-drive single to Beltran with one out in the sixth.

Williams’ biggest mistake, though, came at the plate in the sixth, when he crushed a pitch from Tom Glavine deep to left. The career .105 hitter, thinking the ball was going to clear the fence, stood and smiled before realizing it wasn’t going to make it all the way. He wound up with an incredibly long single, not to mention a sprained left ankle that eventually forced him to leave the game.

“It’s uncalled for to do something like that, and I kicked myself in the butt for doing that,” Williams said. “You’ve got to play the game right.”

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