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April 20, 2006

Francisco Cordero, Supplier of Angst

Francisco Cordero hit bottom as a closer on Wednesday night when he entered the ninth with a 6-4 lead:

Plunked Ichiro! (0-1 count)
Allowed a ferocious double by Jose Lopez (1st pitch)
Allowed a Raul Ibanez sac fly to very deep right (1-0 count)
Allowed a Richie Sexson single to tie the game (2-1 count)
Allowed a Kenji Johjima single to put the winning run at second (1-1 count)

Perhaps for the first time ever, Buck Showalter pulled Cordero with the game still tied in the 9th. Against replacement reliever C.J. Wilson, Carl Everett hit a three-run blast that would have felled a dinosaur.

I don’t wish to downplay Cordero’s recent lack of success. Indeed, I didn’t have a margarita Wednesday night and cursed up a storm during the ninth inning (just ask my wife). However, I would suggest that many fans are calling for Cordero’s head not just because he failed, but because of how he failed. Both Wednesday night’s debacle and last week’s blown save and loss were walk-off losses. (Cordero wasn’t actually on the mound when Texas lost on Wednesday, but he’d might as well have been.)

Walk-off losses resonate. They can define seasons, at least in retrospect. Perhaps Cordero’s implosion will mean little if the Rangers win their next three or so, but if they follow with several more defeats, fans will remember April 19th. Being the pitiful fan that I am, I still remember a June 1997 game in which John Wetteland surrendered four runs to Colorado in 1997 and lost a game Texas led 8-2 in the seventh. The Rangers were 36-30 at the time and one game behind Seattle; the loss initiated a stretch of nine losses in ten games during which Seattle extended its lead to eight games.

As for Cordero himself, the local dailies have noted his lackluster save percentage and increased propensity to blow saves opportunities. Again, not to defend him, but I believe it’s worthwhile to note how infrequently he has served up a gut-wrenching walk-off loss.

Since becoming the full-time closer in August 2003 until this season, Cordero has converted 98 saves and blown 16. Eleven of the blown saves were of one-run leads, four were of two runs, and one was a four-run lead in which Cordero allowed both of Doug Brocail’s runners to score plus two of his own.

On how many of those occasions did Cordero enter the game with the lead, surrender the tying and winning runs, and walk off the field a loser during that inning? Exactly one. On September 13, 2004, Cordero entered the 10th inning at Oakland with a 6-5 lead. He permitted two runs on three walks and a hit and walked off with the goat horns.

Late in 2003 Cordero allowed the tying run in the bottom of the 9th and the winning run in the 10th. He also walked off a loser after entering a tie game in Minnesota in 2003 and conceding a ninth-inning run. But the devastating, blood-roiling act of surrendering the lead and the game without giving teammates an opportunity to come back? Just once in two-plus years. It’s a debatable talent, but Cordero seemingly has a knack for allowing only the tying run. Remarkably, Texas has triumphed in seven of the 16 games in which Cordero blew the save.

This season, of course, Cordero has walked off the mound a loser in Anaheim and effective did so in Seattle. He’s looked no better in non-save situations against Detroit and Oakland.

Should Ranger fans form a posse and run him out of town? I think not, but in any case it’s worth recalling 2002, when Texas parceled the save opportunities to Hideki Irabu, John Rocker, Anthony Telford, and other pitchers of similarly dubious standing. Cordero has pitched very well for several years, and, assuming he’ s healthy, he deserves ample time to recover.

Posted by Lucas at April 20, 2006 11:58 PM