Cordero turns back Cubs to seal win

Cordero turns back Cubs to seal win

MILWAUKEE -- Brewers closer Francisco Cordero kicks some dirt off the first-base side of the pitcher's mound, then gets into his crouch. He peers in for the sign from his catcher and holds out his right arm. He shakes his hand a few times as if saying to the batter, "This is what I am going to use to beat you."

Then he does it.

It has been as simple as that for Cordero this season, and even on a Tuesday night that saw him work in the eighth inning for just the second time all year, it was that simple again. Cordero doused a Cubs rally in the eighth, then worked around a hit in the ninth for his Major League-leading 22nd save, preserving a 7-5 Brewers win over the Cubs at Miller Park that evened the series at a game apiece.

How does it feel to be all but untouchable?

"It's an unbelievable feeling," Cordero said. "I don't think anybody can describe what it feels like. Everybody is congratulating me. The fans are all excited and happy. It's really something you never get over. ...

"I feel that I can throw any pitch in any count, and just put it anywhere. They're not going to get a hit."

At least not many hits. Aramis Ramirez singled with two outs in the ninth on Tuesday to bring the potential tying run to the plate, but opponents are batting just .089 (7-for-89) against Cordero, who lowered his ERA to a ridiculous 0.36 and has not suffered a blown save this year.

It was enough even to impress Cubs manager Lou Piniella. The skipper was suspended for the series after a weekend run-in with the managerial crew in Chicago and has been watching games from an unused broadcast booth. He saw a replay of Derrek Lee's strikeout against Cordero during his elevator ride down to the clubhouse.

"Ooh!" Piniella sang. "That was a nice pitch he struck him out with. That was a nice slider."

Has Brewers manager Ned Yost ever seen anything like it?

"Rollie was pretty good in '81," Yost said with a straight face.

That would be Rollie Fingers in 1981. The future Hall of Famer led the American League that season with 28 saves and posted a 1.04 ERA, winning both the AL MVP and Cy Young awards.

Cordero has been that good?

"He's been as good as it gets," said Yost, who is not prone to overstatement.

"It's an unbelievable feeling. I don't think anybody can describe what it feels like. Everybody is congratulating me. The fans are all excited and happy. It's really something you never get over."
-- Francisco Cordero

Of course, Cordero needed help. The Brewers reclaimed the National League home run lead (77) with solo homers from Tony Graffanino and Corey Hart in the second inning and Ryan Braun in the fifth -- all off losing pitcher Ted Lilly (4-4), but had to cobble together rallies for the other four runs.

Six different Brewers drove in at least one run and the team went 3-for-6 with runners in scoring position. Braun finished 3-for-4, including an RBI single in the seventh, and drove in the Brewers' final two runs.

"We scored some runs early to give us some wiggle room, and we used every bit of it," Yost said.

Added Braun: "Against a team like this, obviously they're never out of it, so we wanted to continue to put runs on the board, and they came back tonight and battled pretty well."

Milwaukee starter Claudio Vargas (4-1) allowed three runs on seven hits in 5 1/3 innings, and the Brewers improved to 9-2 in the right-hander's starts this season.

He continued a trend of successfully squirming out of jams. The Cubs loaded the bases against Vargas in the fourth inning, but he retired Cesar Izturis on a flyout to right to end the inning. Opponents are 1-for-13 with seven strikeouts against Vargas with the bases loaded this year.

Chicago went 1-for-8 against Vargas with runners in scoring position. Opponents have hit .161 (10-for-62) against him with runners in scoring position in 2007.

"I try to focus a little bit more down in the zone and making my pitches," Vargas said. "That's been working for me."

Carlos Villanueva provided 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, and Yost let Villanueva bat for himself against Cubs left-hander Will Ohman in the bottom of the seventh inning after Braun's single gave the Brewers a 7-3 lead. Yost said he let the pitcher hit because he had only left-handed options on the bench, and he decided to "gamble" that Villanueva could get through a clean eighth.

Villanueva struck out to end the seventh, then walked the Cubs leadoff man in the eighth and was replaced by Derrick Turnbow. The move was a bit of a departure for Yost, who has previously saved Turnbow for games in which the Brewers' lead is three runs or fewer.

Turnbow has been going through another on-again, off-again season, and on Tuesday he was a bit off. He retired Cliff Floyd, who had homered in his previous at-bat, but then walked Michael Barrett and surrendered a single to Ryan Theriot that loaded the bases.

Turnbow struck out pinch-hitter Matt Murton for the second out, but then fell behind another pinch-hitter, Mark DeRosa, who hit a two-run single that cut the lead to 7-5.

"The walk hurt me," Turnbow said. "I think I threw the ball pretty well for the most part. And I have the best reliever in baseball coming in behind me."

Enter Cordero. He struck out Alfonso Soriano on four pitches, then worked around Ramirez's single in a 14-pitch ninth.

"I know they're not going to call me in the seventh inning, but I'm ready for the eighth any time," Cordero said. "This is a job I need to get done."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.