Nationals Win Fifth Game in a Row

Nationals' Marlon Anderson scores on a Brian Schneider double in the sixth inning as the ball gets away from Braves catcher Todd Pratt. Washington scored all five of its runs in the inning.
Nationals' Marlon Anderson scores on a Brian Schneider double in the sixth inning as the ball gets away from Braves catcher Todd Pratt. Washington scored all five of its runs in the inning. (By John Bazemore -- Associated Press)
By Mark Schlabach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 6, 2006

ATLANTA, June 5 -- About three hours earlier, Washington Nationals Manager Frank Robinson sat in a small office in his team's clubhouse at Turner Field. Asked if he worried about closer Chad Cordero's psyche against a team that had battered him throughout his career, Robinson shook his head.

"No, none whatsoever," Robinson said. "If I did, I'd still have to use him anyway. But I don't think he has any mental scars from facing this ballclub."

Cordero exorcised at least a few of those memories in the ninth inning of the Nationals' 5-4 victory over the Braves in front of a sparse crowd of 20,702 on Monday night. With two outs and the bases loaded, Cordero earned his seventh save in his last nine appearances by inducing a ground ball to end the game. The Nationals won their fifth consecutive game, moving within six games of .500, and moved to 3-3 this season against the team that has won the overall series against them in all but two of the last 11 seasons.

"It's a lot more fun now," Cordero said. "We're getting a few breaks and getting timely hits and timely pitching. Everybody is having a lot more fun now."

The ninth inning sure was fun, especially for those Nationals fans who love drama. After getting two quick outs, Cordero said he lost control of each of his three pitches -- fastball, slider and change-up -- and allowed Edgar Renteria's double. Cordero walked Chipper Jones and after he started Andruw Jones with a ball, pitching coach Randy St. Claire walked to the mound to calm down the reliever.

But then Cordero threw three balls in a row to walk Jones and load the bases, and Adam LaRoche came to the plate. Finally, with Robinson sitting nervously in the dugout, starter Livan Hernandez watching in the clubhouse, and the Atlanta fans hoping for Cordero to implode again against his nemesis, LaRoche grounded out to second base on a 2-2 pitch to end the game.

"Yeah, I know they've had a lot of success against me in the past," said Cordero, remembering that in his last outing at Turner Field, he gave up a walk-off grand slam to Jeff Francoeur in an 8-5 loss on May 13. "But I've got to go out there and get the three outs they've asked me to get. I've got to move on and that's the past."

Hernandez, at least for the time being, can forget about his undistinguished past against the Braves, too. He worked six strong innings, retiring 10 consecutive hitters before allowing Francoeur's two-run homer in the sixth. Hernandez won his fourth consecutive start, but it was only his third win against the Braves in 22 career starts and the first at Turner Field during the regular season.

"You come out and pitch in the game and try to win," Hernandez said. "You don't think about that. It's not something in my mind. I have good games and bad games. You struggle with some teams. Other pitchers have struggled against teams."

Hernandez had struggled against the Braves more than any other team. It had been nearly six seasons since Hernandez had beaten the team he pitched brilliantly against as a rookie with the Florida Marlins in the 1997 National League Championship Series. Hernandez, an emergency starter for the Marlins because of injuries, beat the Braves twice during that postseason, striking out an NLCS-record 15 batters in a 2-1 win in Game 5.

But since then, Hernandez had gone 2-14 against the Braves in regular season games. Five times he left games against the Braves holding a lead, only to watch his relievers blow them. Despite that forgettable history, Hernandez said he wasn't overly concerned when Cordero loaded the bases in the ninth.

"Everybody knows Chad is good," Hernandez said. "I was in here relaxing and watching the game."

Hernandez might have been the only Nationals player not anxious. The Nationals took a 5-2 lead in the sixth inning, scoring three unearned runs on Atlanta errors. But in the bottom of that inning, Hernandez made his biggest mistakes, walking LaRoche with two outs and then throwing a slider in the middle of the plate to Francoeur. The Braves' right-handed swinger blasted the pitch into the left field stands, pulling the Braves within 5-4. Two more hitters reached base in the inning, but then pinch hitter Wilson Betemit flew out to left to end the threat.

The Nationals also had timely hits -- catcher Brian Schneider had a two-run double in the sixth and Jose Vidro knocked in a run with a double to deep right. The Nationals scored two runs when second baseman Marcus Giles fielded Hernandez's grounder and awkwardly threw home. His throw sailed over the catcher's head, scoring Schneider and Damian Jackson for a 4-2 lead.

"They made some mistakes they usually don't make and we took advantage of them," Robinson said.

So did the Nationals relievers, as Gary Majewski, Mike Stanton and Jon Rauch allowed only two base runners in the next two innings to set up the ninth for Cordero. The game ended with Francoeur standing on deck.

"This was what mattered tonight, not the past," Robinson said.

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