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The Streak remembered: Chad Cordero

So after what we witnessed last night, this exercise in looking back seems more and more absurd, because it's clear, now, we should be looking forward. Alas, I've committed to doing this -- and I'm thankful to the few of you who I ran into last night and said they really liked the reflections -- so we'll continue to march forward. June 9, 2010, will always be the first day after Strasburg. June 9, 2005 was when the Nats really started to generate some attention nationally, because they were in first place, and it was starting to seem like they never lost.

Game 7, June 9
Nationals 4, Athletics 3
W - Hernandez (9-2)
L - Blanton (1-6)
S - Cordero (17)

This one ranks up there for absurdity. Regular second baseman Jose Vidro missed his 32nd straight game with a bad ankle, and fill-in Jamey Carroll -- who had played well in Vidro's place -- also had to sit with his own sprained ankle. That left the portly, aging Carlos Baerga at second, and that nearly halted the streak.

With the Nats up 4-2 in the ninth, closer Chad Cordero allowed two hits. But with two outs, he induced a grounder to third baseman Vinny Castilla. Castilla flipped the ball to second -- a bit high, but catchable -- and Baerga dropped it. One run scored, and the A's had men on second and third. How did Cordero respond?

"He was like nobody was on and we're leading by 20 runs out there," Castilla said. "He's just so cold-blooded."

With that, Cordero got Bobby Crosby to ground out to short, and the Nats had their seventh straight win. Nick Johnson provided most of the offense with a three-run double (he was hitting .341), and Livan Hernandez threw 127 pitches over his eight innings, allowing two runs to lower his ERA to 3.35.

At end of the day: 34-26, first place in NL East by 1-1/2 games over Philadelphia

In a way, Chad Cordero embodied the madness of what happened in the first few months of 2005. We've discussed it all, ad nauseum, before -- how he didn't throw that hard, how he used almost exclusively fastballs, how he never changed his expression under that flat-brimmed cap, and how he always seemed to put runners on, only to strand them there.

Cordero, now 28, was the first person I talked to when I started strolling down Memory Lane. A text message back revealed he was in Memphis, part of the brutal Pacific Coast League travel schedule for his Tacoma Rainiers. And there was this: "Velocity back up to 87-89." It made me think about that night in April 2008, at Shea Stadium in New York, when Cordero's first fastball clocked in at 76 mph. It took him 15 pitches to top 80 mph. He blamed it, that night, on insufficient time to warm up properly. But the problems were more significant. His velocity had been down all spring, and he was headed for season-ending shoulder surgery.

That, of course, led to his departure from the Nationals. He signed on with Seattle last season, knowing he would have to spend the whole year in the minors. He re-signed with the Mariners this offseason, hoping he'd be able to work his way back to the majors. But he didn't know.

"It's been tough," Cordero said when we talked a few days later. "Last year was kind of a wash for me, with rehab and all that kind of stuff. I think it really helped not trying to rush it back too quick. If I did that, I wouldn't be pitching this year.

"But it feels awesome now. The velocity's back up to 87-89. I've hit 90 a couple of times. My control is probably the best it's ever been. Overall, my arm's feeling great."

That, though, wasn't the case in 2009, when Cordero seemed so far away from the 2005 All-Star Game, from leading the majors with 47 saves. I asked him whether there were times when he wondered whether he would pitch again. The answer was easy.

"Definitely," he said. "A lot of the time last year when I was rehabbing, I was wondering whether I'd be able to pitch again. I even went back down a little bit, velocity-wise. I was throwing 85, then went back down to like 80. There were definitely times when I was wondering if it would come back.

"Then, all of a sudden this offseason, it just came back one day. It was the weirdest thing ever. I was still throwing like 82, 83, and I went out one day, and it seemed like everything was back. I was close to 90."

When we spoke, Cordero's numbers had been scarred by one bad outing -- typical for the early-season with a reliever -- but he felt confident with the way he was throwing. He was pitching not in a strict closer's role, but on a regular schedule, almost every other day. In 10 straight outings from April 30 to May 31, he allowed no runs in eight of them and just three earned runs overall, in 11-1/3 innings. Asked then if he thought he would return to the majors, the answer was also easy.

"Definitely," he said. "I kind of feel like I never got hurt. It just feels so good to be back on the mound again and throwing -- and throwing pretty well. I just had that one bad game, and that's kind of been it. I feel like, right now, about as good as I've felt since that season, 2005."

Cordero knows he will likely never have another season like he did in 2005 -- when he saved those 47 games in 54 opportunities and posted a 1.82 ERA. "I didn't take anything for granted," he said. But now, at least, he knows he'll have a season. On June 3, five years and one day after the victory that started the Nationals' 10-game winning streak, the Mariners called Cordero up to the majors. A night later, he pitched the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Angels, allowing a run on two hits, his first major league appearance since April 29, 2008, his only major league appearance not in the uniform of the Expos or Nationals. A night after that, he pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, in a mop-up role in a big loss, mixing in a strikeout.

The fans in Seattle may never know him as "The Chief," and he may never become a closer again. But Cordero's journey shows how long, in baseball, five years can be.

By Barry Svrluga  |  June 9, 2010; 1:30 PM ET
 | Tags: The Streak remembered  
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"So after what we witnessed last night, this exercise in looking back seems more and more absurd, because it's clear, now, we should be looking forward."

No! Wrong! Bad Svrluga!

Remembering that initial burst of innocent optimism, to be followed by four and a half years of misery, is exactly what will make the Nat's future all the more sweeter for those of us who've been there from the beginning. This is absolutely the perfect time for this series of articles.

Posted by: joebleux | June 9, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Barry, can we tag these so they're easy to find? I'm losing them in the Strasburg Mania. Call it "The Streak 2005" for optimism's sake.

Posted by: Section506 | June 9, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Loved the Chief.

Thanks Barry. And I agree with joebleux, keep it coming. 2005 is always worth remembering.

Posted by: Section505203 | June 9, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

"So after what we witnessed last night, this exercise in looking back seems more and more absurd, because it's clear, now, we should be looking forward."

Blogfather: fail! I'm loving these retro items. Keep 'em coming. :-)

I was so glad to hear that Chief got back to the bigs, and I wish him well in his career. I still love the story about him, his parents, and the team reps sitting around the kitchen table "negotiating" his contract. (Did I mention that he was one of my faves? Oh, yeah. I guess I did.) I'm guessing that the Seattle fans also won't hear "Hail to the Chief" as he takes the mound. Their loss. No, really.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | June 9, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the others. Last night's performance was the first time I had felt like this about the Nationals since 2005...
The difference of course is that Strasburg was expected to do well, and the 2005 Nats were expected to fail but both of them succeeded in providing MAGIC.

I can only hope there will be more Magic in the years to come, but I am worried as I don't see much in the pipeline at the Low-A and A level with the exception of Norris and Burgess.

I'm still glad Boomer Whiting is doing well in Syracuse.

Posted by: PNatsFan | June 9, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Keep 'em coming, Barry. Last night's game was electric and I'll never forget it, but the 2005 opening day will always be at the top of my list. Remembering the individual players who gave us that season -- both the magic and the disappointment -- is wonderful. I was ashamed last night when fans booed Ryan Church. He didn't deserve that.

Posted by: Natsgal | June 9, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

37 and me, sure, it was an amazing first date last night. But you never, ever forget your first. The Chief and I, we've got history. Just like Livo, who I am proud to say I'll see throw tonight.

Posted by: softballgirl | June 9, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

In case you weren't watching CSPAN this morning:

Posted by: Section506 | June 9, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Natsgal, I agree, and I don't think that Milledge deserved it, either.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | June 9, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

I also thought it was bad taste to boo Church. Milledge on the other hand? Different story, although still not boo-able.

As long as we're down memory lane (Hail to the CHIEF! Who never got the chance to pitch for Syracuse Chiefs -- that would've been interesting!), the booing question got me thinking: Who are the ex-Nats where it's "permissable" by the NJ faithful to boo? By what criteria -- lack of effort? Not living up to talent/paycheck?

1. FLop
2. Bruney?

@softballgirl: are you hanging out in the indoor cage tonight? looks like lots of rain ;-)

Just like Livo, who I am proud to say I'll see throw tonight.

Posted by: softballgirl | June 9, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: mo_dc | June 9, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

mo_dc, I was actually musing on that last night, and I couldn't think of one ex-Nat whom I'd boo.

Re. Lopez, I think I've told this before, but it's worth telling again. :-) It was the last game of the season at RFK. After it was over, kids and adults headed for the exit of the players' parking lot, to say goodbye to the team, and, yeah, maybe get an autograph or two. Sori exited the gate in his pimped-out Escalade, a huge gem sparkling in his ear. Of course, we were all hoping that he'd make a deal with the team and return to us the following year. Eh, not so much. Anyway, as the kids called out to him, he lifted his index finger in a casual salute and nodded his head ever so imperceptibly as he cruised on by. Other players also drove by without stopping. Only one player stopped and signed for the assembled kids while I was there. Know who it was? Yep. Lopez. So, no, I can't boo him, either.

And from the interviews I've read that were given by Bruney after his release, he handled it with class and dignity. So, I'd not boo him either.

Like I said, I can't think of one I would. But then again, I am their mom and all.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | June 9, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Matt Capps may be our guy now, but he ain't the Chief. We loved that dude in our house, heart palpitations and 9th inning nausea not withstanding. a class dude, and sure hope he makes it back to the top of the mountain.

Posted by: lousywebsite | June 9, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Thanks again Barry. We are reading and enjoying. I've ben trying ot follow coredero, but news has been really slim. So glad he made it back. He'll never be the same, but hopefully he can contribute and stay in the game for a while.

(We should have traded him to Bost in '05, but oh well, we're looking forward, right?)

Posted by: DCSec112 | June 9, 2010 4:47 PM | Report abuse

@Natsgal: Ryan Church is an overrated bum, a marginal AAAA player who doesn't play hurt and is a cancer in the clubhouse. Never could hit a breaking pitch and is a tricked-out version of Ryan Langershlang. And he's not the sharpest tool in the shed, either.

Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | June 9, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse

That's odd, Sunshine, as he always speaks well of you. :-)

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | June 9, 2010 6:10 PM | Report abuse

1a FTW
That's odd, Sunshine, as he always speaks well of you. :-)

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | June 9, 2010 6:10 PM

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | June 9, 2010 11:47 PM | Report abuse

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