Two Hits, One Nadir For Nats

Good fortune is swinging the Dodgers' way: Third baseman Casey Blake had two hits in his first game since he was acquired from the Indians.
Good fortune is swinging the Dodgers' way: Third baseman Casey Blake had two hits in his first game since he was acquired from the Indians. (By Lisa Blumenfeld -- Getty Images)
By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 27, 2008

LOS ANGELES, July 26 -- All night, the Washington Nationals' bats made two relevant sounds. One happened in the fourth inning, interrupting perhaps their most silent offensive performance of the season. Ronnie Belliard smacked a double toward center. Some three feet below the top of the fence, the ball thumped the padding.

Smack, thump.

In the ninth, the team got one more hit. Another crack, that one from Willie Harris.

Those moments aside, though, Washington was perfectly close to nothingness. The 6-0 final against Los Angeles Friday night at Dodger Stadium was underwritten by a nothing-working night from starter Odalis Pérez and another no-show by the Nationals' offense. Facing Los Angeles right-hander Derek Lowe through the game's first eight innings, the Nationals got one hit. They finished the game with two. The team's losing streak stretched to five games. Counting the last 30 innings, the team has scored two runs.

In other words, the same total Pérez allowed Saturday night in a span of five pitches.

The contrast between these clubs, one within a game of first place, the other more than 10 games out of fourth place, even emerged in the way each is approaching the final days before the July 31 trading deadline. Before this game, the Dodgers, feeling the need to improve their play at third base, traded two prospects to Cleveland for Casey Blake. And there he was, hours before his first game -- a 2-for-3 performance -- sitting in the home dugout, chatting with Manager Joe Torre, talking to reporters, sharing his story about rising in one transaction from a last-place team to a second-place team.

In the Nationals' clubhouse, meanwhile, players talked about the same possibility -- which in this case meant departure, not arrival. Felipe López, starting at shortstop for the injured Cristian Guzmán, said he wasn't preoccupied by trade possibilities, but that contributing to a winner "is the reason we play." Paul Lo Duca watched the final innings of the Yankees-Red Sox game from a clubhouse sofa, wondering if the Yankees had any interest in a catcher. (They do, but not in Lo Duca, one source said.) Said Lo Duca, "I would love to be in a pennant race."

In a way, the moods of two teams at opposite ends of competitiveness translated -- visibly -- onto the field. After making noise with the Blake deal, the Dodgers wasted no time providing the evening with their own soundtrack. This was the kind of night where the hitting just sounded hard. Two pitches in, Juan Pierre cracked a single off Pérez. Three pitches later, Matt Kemp jolted a homer to right. By Pérez's ninth pitch, Los Angeles had three hits. Dodger Stadium thundered with appreciation. Who needed Blake? By the time he batted to end the first, the Dodgers already led 3-0.

Same as San Francisco's Matt Cain on Thursday, same as Los Angeles's Chad Billingsley on Friday, Lowe, who entered with a 7-8 record but a 3.97 ERA, went about the standard task of crumbling Washington's lineup into waste material. Lowe had his pinpoint sinker working, and showed as much during the first time through the lineup, when he induced seven of nine batters to ground out.

"He had his Boston stuff tonight," Harris said of Lowe, a former World Series winner with the Red Sox. "That ball was bouncing all over the place. He just beat us. He just flat-out beat us. He had it tonight."

Earlier this week, coming off a 29-run, three-game series in Atlanta, Washington's opinion of its lineup reached a new high. And that was before Ryan Zimmerman rejoined the team, recovered from his shoulder injury. That was before Lastings Milledge rejoined the team, too, recovered from his groin injury. Those two, the feeling went, would make an improving lineup all the better.

But in the last five games, all losses, Washington has scored nine runs. In the last three games, the Nationals have scored just two. Power pitcher, finesse pitcher? It doesn't matter. Skill of any kind can mute the Nationals.

Lowe cruised. He recorded 10 outs in a row before allowing a base runner -- the Belliard double off the center field wall. By the time Pérez notched his 10th out, the Dodgers had four runs and six hits. This was Pérez's second sloppy outing in a row, too. Against Atlanta on July 20, he lasted five innings but allowed five runs and nine hits, including two home runs.

Pérez ran into deeper trouble in the fourth. He gave up the game's second home run, this one to Nomar Garciaparra. He allowed two more doubles in a three-batter span. Manager Manny Acta pulled the lefty after four.

"I didn't have my best stuff," Pérez said. "I was trying to hit the corners, but I couldn't. It's a tough game."

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