Updated: Apr 16, 2021
If you were a fan of the Washington Nationals in their first few seasons in Washington (or Montreal in their last two seasons) or a fan of a team in the NL East during the mid-2000s, you may remember the closer the team had who was utterly dominant during that era and one of the best closers in the league.
Chad Cordero made his debut in 2003 with the Montreal Expos and quickly became a dominant force out of the back of the bullpen in the late years in Montreal and the early portion of the Washington Nationals' existence. He had a fascinating brief major league career, as is the case for several dominant relievers, and it deserves a closer look.
HORS DE MONTREAL! (THE EARLY YEARS)
Cordero had a brief major league stay in 2003 but quickly set the tone for what the rest of his MLB career would look like. He made his debut on August 30, 2003, striking out a batter in a scoreless inning. In his third career appearance, Cordero struck out four over 1.2 innings, fanning Pat Burrell, Chase Utley, Todd Pratt and Marlon Byrd.
Unscored upon in his first three appearances in the majors, he gave up his first runs of the season on September 6, allowing a two-run home run to Juan Encarnacion of the Marlins. After that? Eight games, 7 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 6 K, 1 BB. Cordero was nails for the remainder of his rookie season, showing some promise out of the bullpen for the Expos. He finished his rookie season with a 1.64 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 2.74 xFIP and 2.43 SIERA in albeit a small sample size, but still a great showing from a rookie reliever on an otherwise mediocre Expos team.
Cordero slowly started to be the trusted eighth and ninth-inning piece for Frank Robinson in 2004, pitching in 69 games and 59 of them in the eighth or ninth inning. He appeared in 31 games with a lead of three runs or less and in a tie game 15 times, beginning to become the shut-down reliever he would eventually be. The appearance that showed how truly dominant he could be was on September 5 against Atlanta, going through an absolute buzzsaw of a lineup. He replaced Joe Horgan in the top of the ninth, fanning Andruw Jones.
In the 10th, he was even better, striking out Rafael Furcal and Julio Franco and keeping the game scoreless. In the final inning he appeared in, he struck out Marcus Giles and Chipper Jones as the Expos went on to win in the 12th inning. Cordero's final line was a tremendous relief performance, striking out five of the seven outs he recorded.
2004 was a pretty good season for Cordero, who had a 2.94 ERA in 82.1 innings, picking up 14 saves and 83 strikeouts as the Expos were in their final season of existence.
Chad Cordero is the answer to a pretty quirky trivia question. In 2004, he recorded the final Expos out at both Olympic Stadium and Estadio Hiram Bithorn, closing out two home stadiums. In 2007, he recorded the final out at RFK Stadium for the Nationals, becoming likely the first pitcher to record the final home out at three different home stadiums in a franchise. This is one of my favorite tidbits about Cordero.
CORDERO FORCE ONE (2005 SEASON)
Now comes the good part, the season this article is almost all about was Cordero's 2005 season. Heading south to the nation's capital, Cordero's skills came with him as he was named the team's closer in the inaugural season at RFK Stadium.
Throughout the 2005 season, Cordero morphed into one of the best shut-down relievers in the game, earning the nickname "The Chief" as he came out in the ninth inning and was as close to a sure thing as possible.
Cordero's June was an incredible month. He pitched in 16 games, allowing zero earned runs, striking out 14 in 16.1 innings and racking up 16 saves. For his performance, he picked up June Pitcher of the Month honors, the only time he did so in his career.
By the All-Star Break, Cordero had video-game numbers: a 1.07 ERA, 33/36 saves and just six earned runs in 50.2 innings pitched. The saves mark was tops in the league. The Nationals' record in his appearances? 41-8. He was named to the only All-Star Game of his career, fanning Ivan Rodriguez, the only batter he faced, in the eighth inning.
The rest of Cordero's season would be just as great, even trimming his ERA to below 1.00 at one point, and it probably would have been around that had he not allowed three runs in a pair of performances down the stretch.
The Nationals finished the season 81-81, a promising start to their time in Washington. Cordero was a huge part of that, finishing with a 1.82 ERA, leading the league in saves with 47, a 3.72 FIP and 3.45 SIERA.
Cordero finished fifth in Cy Young Voting and 14th in MVP voting, great recognition to receive for any relief pitcher. His 225 ERA+ would rank sixteenth in the all-time single-season rankings. For his efforts, he won the 2005 Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the Year Award.
The craziest thing about Cordero -- his fastball regularly sat around 88-90 MPH and was predominantly a three-pitch pitcher, utilizing a change-up and slider with impeccable control, which is why he was so good. For 2005, his average velocity on his fastball was 89.4 and had a six-MPH difference between that and his change-up.
THE LATER YEARS (2006-10)
Over the next two seasons, Cordero still pitched solidly as the Nationals' closer, picking up 66 saves and a 3.38 ERA as injuries started to take their toll. He only pitched in six games in 2008 with Washington before tearing his labrum and requiring surgery. He was non-tendered by the Nationals following that.
It was a long road back to the majors, but he made it back with Seattle in 2010, pitching in a few games before being sent back down, bouncing around in organizations again before finally hanging up the cleats after the 2013 season.
In 2019, he threw out the first pitch of 2019 World Series Game 3 in D.C. to his former catcher Brian Schneider, which I thought was pretty cool.
Cordero experienced the highs and lows of a major league reliever during his career, stringing together four years of greatness with the Nationals. His 2005 might be one of the best of a reliever during that era, and I'm glad I could bring it back to light.