By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 27, 2008 1:56 AM
LOS ANGELES, July 26 -- During the first eight innings Saturday night, the Washington Nationals' bats made one relevant sound. It 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.
Other than that, the night was mute.
By its sounds or its numbers, Saturday evening's game at Dodger Stadium -- a 6-0 defeat against Los Angeles -- provided a measurement for two teams in inverse positions. Dodger pitcher Derek Lowe was almost perfect, allowing one hit in eight; Washington pitcher Odalis Perez allowed two home runs in four. The Nationals' two hits all night, including a ninth-inning Willie Harris single against reliever Joe Beimel, counted as the team's lowest output of the season.
Washington's losing streak stretched to five games. Counting the last 30 innings, the team has scored two runs.
In other words, the same total Perez allowed Saturday night in a span of five pitches.
"Today, I didn't have my best stuff," said Perez, who allowed six runs in four innings.
Which pitches weren't working?
"I would say everything."
The contrast between these clubs, one within a game of first place, the other more than 10 games out of fourth place, also emerged in the way each has approached 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 the media, 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 Lopez, starting at shortstop for the injured Cristian Guzman, 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 games 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 its own soundtrack. This was the kind of night where the hitting just sounded hard. Two pitches in, Juan Pierre cracked a single off Perez.
Three pitches later, Matt Kemp jolted a homer to right. By Perez's ninth pitch, Los Angeles already 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 when that happens, he ranks among the league's best. Seven of Washington's first nine batters grounded out. Lowe retired the first 10 he faced.
By the time Perez notched his tenth out, the Dodgers already had four runs and six hits.
All game, Lowe kept the ball low and on the corners. He started counts with strikes. Some on the Washington side later called it among the best pitching performances they've seen this season.
"He had his Boston stuff tonight," Harris said. "That ball was bouncing all over the place He just flat-out beat us."
"He did a number on us," Manager Manny Acta said.
Perhaps, as some indicated, Lowe held the pitcher's equivalent of a royal flush -- the kind of stuff capable of beating anybody. Perez had the opposite hand. And for the second consecutive start, he failed to showcase much value for a contending team. On this night, he felt the energy of big July baseball -- helped by a weekend crowd of 42,122 -- only as an outsider.
"You know, I would say that the fans here, they are for real," said Perez, who played in Los Angeles from 2002 to 2006. "Who knows. (You see) a lot of expectation here because of the trade deadline now; they got Blake. They just want to win and continue to play well and win the division."
Perez was then asked if he missed being a part of that.
"You know what, I'm happy here," he answered. "Business is business. I'm here in Washington, and I'm happy here."