- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 25, 2007

DENVER — Chad Cordero has walked the tightrope before. He has flirted with disaster on plenty of occasions, often escaping his own mess to emerge on top despite a few blown saves here and there.

But rarely has the Washington Nationals closer been so ineffective that hes been unable to finish a ballgame.

Imagine, then, just how bad Cordero must have been during last nights 6-5 loss to the Colorado Rockies to force manager Manny Acta into taking the ball out of his hands in the ninth inning with his team still leading by two runs.

Acta had no choice, not after Cordero failed to retire the first five Colorado Rockies he faced and turned a comfortable four-run lead into an absolute nailbiter.

As the Nationals manager put it: You cant wait any longer than that. By that point, he had already shown that he didnt have it today.

Unfortunately, by the time Acta handed the ball to Jon Rauch, it was too late. Asked to somehow escape a bases-loaded, no-out jam, Rauch couldnt pull off the impossible. He allowed a game-tying single, then watched as shortstop DAngelo Jimenez booted Kaz Matsuis slow roller up the middle to allow the deciding run to score in Washingtons jaw-dropping loss.

Tonight just wasnt my night, said Cordero, who matched his career high with five runs allowed (four earned) while suffering his third loss of the season.

What should have been a simple Nationals victory, one keyed by Shawn Hills standout seven innings on the mound and home runs by Ryan Zimmerman and Wily Mo Pena, instead turned into Washingtons worst loss of the year.

His team up 5-1 in the ninth, Acta didnt have to use Cordero in a non-save situation. The first-year manager, though, has been around long enough to know that no lead is safe at Coors Field, so he asked his usually reliable closer to finish this one off.

A four-run lead here in Coors Field, with the heart of the order [coming up], its a save to me, Acta said. Maybe not in the stats, but to me, its a save situation. You just cant be bringing some other guy in there. Youve got to have your best guy.

Cordero, who had been scored upon in his previous two outings, immediately fell into trouble. Troy Tulowitzki jump-started the rally with a single up the middle. Matt Holliday then launched a two-run homer to right, bringing the crowd of 25,232 back to life.

An infield single by Todd Helton and Garrett Atkins double put the tying runs on base, and when Brad Hawpe drew a walk to load the bases, Corderos disastrous night ended.

Ive still got to go out there and get three outs, he said. Anything can happen, just like it did tonight. A four-run lead, especially in this kind of ballpark … its not safe.

Rauch, usually the man who sets up Cordero, entered and surrendered Torrealbas two-run single, tying the game 5-5. He nearly extended the game into extra innings, but with two on and two out, he watched as Matsui hit a slow, broken-bat roller up the middle. Jimenez tried to scoop up the ball but never got a handle on it. Hawpe trotted home from third with the winning run, and the Nationals trudged off the field in disbelief.

Just trying to catch the ball, Jimenez said of his error. I had to be quick, because Matsui runs quick. … Its part of the game.

The ninth-inning meltdown spoiled a fabulous start by Hill. With seven innings of one-run ball, the right-hander added another impressive line to his budding resume. A model of consistency, he still has yet to allow more than three earned runs in any of his 11 starts this year. After holding the Rockies to four hits, issuing no walks and striking out five, Hill lowered his season ERA to 2.31. Nine of his 11 outings have been quality starts. In three starts since returning from the DL, he has posted a 1.35 ERA.

A great performance by Shawn, Acta said. He threw the ball very well against a tough lineup in a tough ballpark. Its not wasted as some people might think. Because he was able to show us what we think of him and what hes been able to do for us. By Hills lofty standards, last nights outing rated only as average. He surrendered back-to-back hits to open the first, leading to a Rockies run. He later allowed a triple to Matsui and a double to Helton.

But Hill had good command of his pitches, especially his trademark sinker, which darted down and away on Colorados left-handed hitters and left them downright flummoxed. And yet, at nights end, it was tough for Hill to find the silver lining in his pitching performance. Its tough to accentuate the positives in the wake of a clubs worst loss of the year. The bullpens been so good, Hill said. You give them a lead, four runs going into the ninth, 99 percent of the time were going to come out with no problem. Its unfortunate. But if that happens again, well feel just as confident next time theyll get the job done.

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