Nats Fall to Cardinals; Cordero Placed on DL

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 5, 2008

ST. LOUIS, April 4 -- The tying run was on second, the lead run on first, when Felipe López was, by his own admission, frozen by Jason Isringhausen's final pitch of the night. Home plate umpire Jim Wolf called Lopez out on strikes, Isringhausen pumped his fist and shouted, and the St. Louis Cardinals shook hands following a 5-4 victory over López's Washington Nationals on Friday night.

In such situations -- a one-run game in the ninth inning -- is when a team badly needs its closer. Despite allowing Austin Kearns's one-out single and issuing a walk to Paul Lo Duca, Isringhausen fulfilled his job description for St. Louis by first striking out Ronnie Belliard, then retiring López to finish it off. The Nationals have played four one-run games in their first five. They will now have to nail down such tight affairs without their own closer, Chad Cordero, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list following Friday's game because of tendinitis in his right shoulder.

The move, which is retroactive to March 27, means the Nationals will be without their bullpen's anchor, whose appearances are often accompanied by heart palpitations, for another week. As expected, the club will call up left-hander John Lannan to make Sunday's start here, and Cordero is eligible to come off the disabled list next Friday, when the Nationals host Atlanta.

"It's totally understandable," Cordero said after the loss. "I just kind of hate going on the DL as a player. But it's best for myself and the team. I'm fine with it, and the arm is feeling really good."

That, as far as Cordero is concerned, is the central point. He will throw a bullpen session as scheduled Saturday, and Manager Manny Acta sounded as if his closer would be ready to return as soon as he is eligible. Now, if only the Nationals could provide the bullpen with a game to close.

"We had a lot of chances," said López, who played well defensively in just his second game in left field but struck out three times -- twice with runners in scoring position. That played into the theme of the night. The Nationals left the bases loaded twice, stranded 13 men in all -- and might have completed an admirable comeback from an early deficit had they managed just one more hit.

"Bases loaded, all that stuff," López said. "We just got to get better at not missing those opportunities."

The missed opportunities stood out because left-hander Odalis Pérez pitched poorly, putting Washington in an early hole. Pérez trailed 2-0 after just five pitches -- a double to Brian Barton and a two-run homer to Rick Ankiel. He struggled against his nemesis, Albert Pujols, who doubled and walked twice against him. Pujols has now reached base 23 of the 30 times he has faced Pérez, for an absurd on-base percentage of .767. He is, too, slugging 1.286 against him -- ridiculous numbers, even for a hitter of Pujols's stature.

"When you hit .320-plus, it's because you're a great hitter," Pérez said of Pujols. "But especially against me, I don't know if he knows my pitches. What is it against me?"

In reality, though, Pérez was undone by lesser Cardinals. He walked four men and hit another, failing to retire a man in the fifth before Acta lifted him, trailing 5-1.

"Just didn't throw enough strikes," Acta said. "Didn't have very good command of his fastball and didn't pitch ahead enough. He's got better command than that."

So the Nationals were forced to try to come back against the Cardinals' bullpen. Washington got most of the way there in the seventh, when Cristian Guzmán -- the only National to hit safely in all five games -- drilled his first homer of the year, off St. Louis reliever Russ Springer, making it 5-2. The Nationals then loaded the bases with nobody out, and pulled within 5-4 on Lo Duca's bases loaded walk and Belliard's hard single.

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