- The Washington Times - Monday, June 25, 2007

In the aftermath of Saturday’s late-game meltdown, Washington Nationals manager Manny Acta couldn’t help but point to the near-perfect situation his team produced before the ninth inning.

An excellent outing from a starting pitcher. A few timely hits along the way. A two-run lead. And the entrance of closer Chad Cordero.

It didn’t lead to victory Saturday, but it was little surprise Acta was pleased when Cordero came in with an identical scenario — right down to the score — yesterday and finished off a 3-1 victory over Cleveland for his 13th save.

“Ask and ye shall receive,” Acta said. “It’s what I asked for yesterday, and we got it again today. Chief bounced back like he’s done before, and our bullpen got it done today.”

Cordero’s comeback locked up a victory for starter Jason Simontacchi, who rebounded from getting torched Tuesday against Detroit to toss six strong innings against the Indians.

It also gave the Nationals (32-43) a series victory at RFK Stadium for the first time in six tries.

At the epicenter of the victory was the bargain-basement battery of Simontacchi and catcher Jesus Flores. The former is a baseball vagabond with stops in independent leagues and Italy who was pressed into major league duty for the first time since 2004 last month. The latter is a Rule 5 pick consigned to irregular duty behind starter Brian Schneider.

The pair share an apartment, and Acta asked them Saturday to come up with a plan to help Washington move past that night’s 4-3 loss, the result of Victor Martinez’s three-run home run off Cordero in the ninth.

It worked well. Simontacchi (5-5), shelled for 10 runs his last time out, got ahead of hitters throughout the day. He matched a season high with six strikeouts and yielded only a fifth-inning home run to Franklin Gutierrez.

“We talked about it, and we were ready,” Flores said. “We had a good plan to go today.”

Meanwhile, Flores did more than call an effective game and throw out basestealer Josh Barfield at second with burgeoning star Grady Sizemore at the plate. He also drove in two of the Nationals‘ three runs, his first RBI since May 13.

Flores staked Washington to a 1-0 lead with a bouncer up the middle in the second to score Dmitri Young. He also sent in an insurance run in the seventh when his chopper to the shortstop scored Ronnie Belliard even though the infield was brought in.

The early hit snapped a 1-for-23 drought for Flores, who spent all of last season in the Florida State League before the Nationals plucked him away from the New York Mets for $50,000. He must remain on Washington’s 25-man roster all season or be offered back to New York.

“It’s pretty impressive for a guy his age to come from A ball and hitting out there once a week or twice every 15 days,” Acta said. “It’s not easy, and he’s done a tremendous job, especially calling a game. That’s something we’ve never really had to address much.”

The Nationals did have to contend with Cleveland starter Jake Westbrook (1-3), who returned from the disabled list yesterday to make his first start since May 2. Westbrook was efficient through seven innings, throwing 88 pitches while giving the Indians (43-31) a chance to reprise their late-inning theatrics.

Trouble was, he still had to face Young twice. The first baseman encountered Westbrook plenty during his days in Detroit and entered with a .500 (13-for-26) average against the right-hander.

He improved it yesterday, reaching on leadoff hits in his first two at-bats before scoring both times. Young insisted there was “no rhyme or reason” for his success against the 2004 All-Star, instead pointing to a philosophy of a simplified approach.

“The Pete Rose theory,” Young said. “It worked for him for 26 years.”

Acta followed a similarly methodical plan with his bullpen, turning to Cordero in the ninth to finish off a victory before the Nationals left town for the next six games. And while Cordero worked some deep counts while using some offspeed pitches, he still turned back the Indians without allowing a runner into scoring position.

It was the exact scenario Acta envisioned after a jarring setback, but even more encouraging was how Washington set up his case of deja vu.

“After the loss last night, we didn’t want to fall behind early in the game like a lot of our losses earlier in the year,” Acta said. “I thought that would have knocked us down a little bit.”

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