Marlins Power Past Nats

Rauch Yields Two Late Homers in Loss: Marlins 6, Nationals 5

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 1, 2008; Page E01

MIAMI, June 30 -- By day, the Washington Nationals lost a closer, and by night, they lost a game because of a closer. Taken together, that created a singular somberness late Monday night at Dolphin Stadium.

On the same afternoon that the Nationals learned Chad Cordero would need shoulder surgery for a torn right labrum, they handed a one-run ninth-inning lead to his replacement, Jon Rauch.

For all the ways Cordero's absence has hurt the effectiveness of Washington's bullpen, Rauch has long been the stabilizer. But Monday night, the two home runs he surrendered -- thunderclaps from Hanley Ramírez and Josh Willingham -- cost the Nationals first a win, then a tie.

In 10 innings, the Nationals lost to the Florida Marlins, 6-5, and the sudden reversal of fortune felt fitting -- a testament to the closer's role, and the burden awaiting one who fails to deliver in it.

"That's one of those things about my job," said Rauch (4-2), who blew his fifth save of the year. "If I make mistakes, it generally costs us ballgames, and that's what happened tonight."

In the ninth, Rauch needed just two more outs to secure Washington's fourth win in five games. But Florida, a team that leads the majors in home runs, picked an opportune time to demonstrate why. Ramírez rocketed a 2-2 Rauch fastball in the ninth -- his 19th homer of the season, and fifth against Washington -- to tie it. One inning later, Willingham belted a slider over the left field fence. The Marlins celebrated at home plate. Rauch walked off the field.

"My best guy didn't get it done, but he's been tremendous" all season, Nationals Manager Manny Acta said. "He's the guy I want out there tomorrow."

Before the game, around 4:30 p.m., Acta had sat in his office and fielded a few questions about his team's missing closer, Cordero, and how his eventual return might benefit the entire bullpen. Acta hoped to have Cordero -- rehabbing his shoulder in Viera, Fla. -- back later in the season. He wanted to have "the old Chief" back. Indeed, in Cordero's absence, an entire set of arms has been thrust into new roles -- and except for Rauch, many have shown the strain of higher expectations or increased workloads.

Minutes later, General Manager Jim Bowden strode into Acta's office. His greeting was an announcement, spit out in quick fragments. "Cordero," Bowden said. "He has a torn labrum. He's out for the year."

The implications ran deep. Washington would need to survive the rest of the year with its current lot of arms. No remedy was en route. Especially for this game, Acta needed help from starter Tim Redding. In the previous series, against Baltimore, Nationals' relievers had combined for at least four innings in every game. They had pitched well, sure -- they had yielded four earned runs in 14 innings -- but the volume meant fatigue. Only three pitchers hadn't appeared in Sunday's 12-inning steamer.

With understandable intentions, then, Acta tried to extend Redding's services. Through five innings, Redding had turned in a vintage start. He had thrown lots of pitches, labored a little, and survived just well enough to present his teammates with a winnable game. Entering the sixth, Redding had allowed three runs and thrown 102 pitches. He was also due to bat.

Which, normally, presents an exit door.

But here, Acta decided to send Redding to the plate.

The main consequence -- other than Redding's single -- was that Washington's right-hander came back out for an inning he couldn't finish. His final nine pitches of the night led to two hits and one messy situation. When he walked from the mound, Florida had runners on first and third, no outs. Washington would need its bullpen to get the game's final 12 outs.

At first it all worked well. Jesús Colome limited the damage from Redding's jam, surrendering just one inherited run -- though it tied the game, 4-4. Then, in the eighth, Saúl Rivera finished off his second inning of scoreless relief work by striking out catcher Matt Treanor with a runner on third. That helped Washington keep a 5-4 lead, built a half-inning earlier when Ronnie Belliard walked, took third on a Paul Lo Duca hit, and scored on Renyel Pinto's wild pitch.

Even though the lead unraveled, it did little to change Acta's faith in Rauch. During the same pregame discussion about Cordero, Acta had said that he planned to stick with Rauch, even if and when Cordero regained his strength. Why? "[Rauch] is fearless," Acta said.

Just six hours later, Rauch was talking about the other part of a closer's job.

"Forget about it. Game's over. I can't do anything about it now," Rauch said. "I can't take those pitches back. I can make better pitches tomorrow and the day after and the day after. That's all I'm worrying about."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company