Nationals Let One Get Away

Alfonso Soriano receives approval from Nationals third base coach Tony Beasley after hitting a home run on the first pitch of the game.
Alfonso Soriano receives approval from Nationals third base coach Tony Beasley after hitting a home run on the first pitch of the game. (By Keith Srakocic -- Associated Press)
By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 16, 2006

PITTSBURGH, July 15 -- A pair of Oakley's with clear lenses covering his eyes and a chain glistening around his neck, Roy Corcoran looked the part of a menacing closer in his first appearance as a Washington National.

The results, though, did not match the perception.

Corcoran surrendered the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth as the Nationals lost, 7-6, their fifth consecutive loss and their second in a row to the team with the worst record in the major leagues. He allowed a game-ending hit to Ronny Paulino on a fastball left too far over the plate and too high, and Paulino thrust his index finger in the air as the ball hopped off the wall in right center.

The Pirates had loaded the bases with no outs on a leadoff walk and consecutive singles by Sean Casey and Jose Castillo, who was trying to sacrifice but wound up on first base with a bunt hit. The result then seemed a formality as Paulino strode to the plate, a stark contrast to what had been a roller coaster of a game.

"I'm not a happy camper at all," Corcoran said. "We've been struggling, and we needed this one real bad."

Corcoran was not the man Nationals Manager Frank Robinson wanted on the mound, but he believed he had no other choice. With Jon Rauch unavailable out of the bullpen because of a family emergency, only Chad Cordero and Saul Rivera remained in the bullpen. Since Robinson felt he couldn't risk an extra-inning game with only one pitcher at his disposal, he was resigned to having Corcoran take the mound in the ninth.

"If I go with Cordero there and the score stays tied, we really had nobody behind him," Robinson said. "If we had another arm out there, he certainly wouldn't have been in the game."

And he would not have batted for himself in the top of the inning. With one out, Corcoran hit instead one of four pinch hitters available to Robinson. Corcoran struck out, allowing Mike Gonzalez to walk Alfonso Soriano before striking out Felipe Lopez.

The Nationals had entered the bottom of the eighth inning ahead by a run thanks to an RBI single by Ryan Zimmerman. At first, there seemed no way Jose Vidro could score. First, he froze at second base because Zimmerman had hit the ball too hard, and it whirred by Pirates pitcher Roberto Hernandez perilously close to his glove.

But center fielder Jose Bautista retrieved the liner as if it was batting practice, not a game that hung in the balance. Vidro slowed slightly around third, but third base coach Tony Beasley wind-milled him around. Bautista lazily tossed the ball into the cutoff man as Vidro scooted home uncontested.

The Pirates made Bautista's play moot in their half of the eighth. Joe Randa led off with a double and moved to third on Nate McLouth's sacrifice bunt.

Corcoran entered to pitch to Jack Wilson. He lofted a fly to shallow center, and Luis Matos charged in. Matos, inserted at the outset of the inning, had been signed one day earlier for moments like this: the ball hanging in the air, the tying run tagging at third late in the game.

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