The Cubs Give, Then Nats Take It Away

The Nationals edge the Cubs, 5-4, Sunday, in part by stranding 13 Chicago baserunners as the Cubs' Michael Barrett slides safely into third in the fourth inning when the Nats' Vinny Castilla cannot complete the tag. (Nick Wass - AP)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 16, 2005

It may have been time. After Carlos Baerga dropped a ball in a one-run loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks last Wednesday, after Gary Bennett and Chad Cordero allowed the ball to ricochet around RFK Stadium in a loss to the Chicago Cubs Friday night, maybe the Nationals deserved to have something happen like yesterday. In the bottom of the sixth, in a tie game, the Nationals hit two balls directly at Cubs second baseman Neifi Perez. Perez caught neither, putting flowery wrapping paper and a nicely tied bow on Washington's 5-4 victory before an announced crowd of 44,103 -- the largest since the home opener more than a month ago.

"It's nice," catcher Brian Schneider said, "to be on the other side of an error."

Or, in this case, two. Perez's gaffes -- one off the bat of Ryan Church, the next off the bat of Cristian Guzman, allowing Church to score what turned out to be the winning run from second -- helped the Nationals take two out of three from the stumbling Cubs, an accomplishment that didn't seem likely given Friday night's debacle. In the gloom of that 6-3 loss -- in which catcher Bennett dropped a ball at home, allowing a runner to score, and closer Cordero made an ill-advised and errant flip, giving up two more runs -- there seemed to be yet another chance to write this team off. They still have a slew of injuries, most notably to second baseman Jose Vidro, out perhaps a month with a high ankle sprain. And the karma after their third straight loss seemed to be catching up to them.

So, naturally, they won the next two.

"That showed a lot of resilience," center fielder Brad Wilkerson said.

There were signs of that all over the place. Start with right fielder Jose Guillen, playing through a painful strained muscle in his rib cage -- an injury that he said might cost him a couple of games this week -- to manage an RBI single and a sterling catch in the outfield. Continue to set-up man Luis Ayala, who allowed two runs in just one-third of an inning to earn the loss Friday night, but tossed two innings of one-hit ball yesterday. And finish with closer Chad Cordero, who teetered on the edge of blowing a two-run lead Saturday night but briskly pitched a 1-2-3 ninth yesterday, pumping his fist after he struck out Perez to finish off his ninth save.

"That felt better," Cordero said.

This won't go down as a classic, and it might be remembered more for the two starting pitchers -- Greg Maddux of the Cubs and John Patterson of the Nationals -- tinkering with the mound than it will be for any sort of courageous comeback by the Nationals. With two outs in the fifth and the Cubs up 3-2, Maddux called out the grounds crew to fill a hole in the mound.

The mound at RFK has been the subject of much debate, and, prior to this homestand, was completely rebuilt. Maddux, though, said he had no real problem.

"The mound was good, actually," Maddux said. "It was just that [Patterson] has such big feet, I was landing on the edge of the hole that he made. No big deal."

Directly after that, though, Maddux allowed a walk to Guillen, and Nick Johnson drove a 3-1 pitch high over the fence in right-center field for his fifth homer, giving the Nationals a 4-3 lead.

But when Patterson returned for the sixth, he was uncomfortable, asking for more work. "They've got to do something with the mound," he said. He promptly walked the leadoff man, Jeromy Burnitz, and allowed a game-tying double to Jason Dubois. After a single and another walk loaded the bases, Manager Frank Robinson had seen enough, and called for Hector Carrasco.

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