By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 24, 2008
CHICAGO, Aug. 23 -- Around and around it went, one form of discomfort cycling into the next. Odalis Pérez didn't feel well because of some bad clubhouse chicken noodle soup, and he didn't pitch well because he didn't feel well, and because he pitched at all he ended the day not just with an upset stomach, but also a minor thumb injury and a well-deserved loss.
After the Washington Nationals' 9-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, the left-hander, looking back on his day, could only find a prolonged bout with misery, though it came from many forms. The outing, he said, was "bad." Even taking the mound was "hard." His pitch location, he said, wasn't there. And unfortunately for Pérez, his stomach solved the chicken noodle soup problem faster than his arm could solve the location problem.
"When I got to the ballpark, I just started feeling weird in my stomach," said Pérez, who allowed 10 hits and five runs (four earned) in 4 1/3 innings. "I had to throw up and that kind of stuff. That's not an excuse. But I don't have it. I don't have it today."
The brand of grim baseball to which Washington reacquainted itself Saturday provided a list of scapegoats far exceeding just a bowl of soup, of course, or even the pitcher who consumed it. The Nationals' lineup struggled to score against Chicago's starter, and Chicago scored too often against Washington's final reliever. Ryan Dempster, starting for the Cubs, didn't surrender a run until the seventh inning and at one point faced seven hitters -- recording six outs -- with a total of 13 pitches. Meantime, the Cubs padded their lead in the eighth inning, which included a microwave-quick rainstorm (with no delay) and a suddenly slippery ball that reliever Marco Estrada threw over the plate and Aramis Ramírez knocked over the fence for his second home run of the day.
Still, this game received its first ominous sign even before Pérez took the mound. At 10:40 a.m., he vomited, feeling sick from the soup. He soon took two pills to calm his stomach. Never did he consider not pitching, though. After all, he loved pitching at Wrigley Field, where he was 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA. Since the start of August, he had four quality starts in a row. And more than anything, pitching -- under any circumstances -- underscored his primary value to the Washington rotation. Pérez, 31, is a known quantity, with none of the youth and potential of others who threaten his rotation spot come September. So why does he earn the chance to pitch every five days?
"Innings," pitching coach Randy St. Claire said. "He's been giving us innings. Plain and simple. You don't have innings out of your starters, and then your bullpen is a mess."
Against the Cubs, Pérez started the game with three scoreless innings, a blend of mayhem and magic. In each of those innings, he walked batters and gave up hits until the exact point when he could afford it no longer. He struck out Reed Johnson with two on in the first, and he escaped with a bases-loaded lineout in the second, and he used an infield pop and another strikeout to erase another bases-loaded jam in the third. When that happened, as Kosuke Fukudome twirled at his low-and-away breaking ball, Pérez slapped his pitching hand against his mitt in celebration. He had a chance.
Still, Manager Manny Acta said, "when you're facing a lineup like they have and playing in this ballfield, you just can't be playing with fire for so long. Sooner or later they were going to get him."
They did. In the fourth, Pérez stopped stranding runners and started allowing them to score. A walk by Alfonso Soriano, and back-to-back hits by Ryan Theriot and Derrek Lee brought home one run. Up stepped Ramírez. Pérez delivered a fastball low, across the middle of the plate. Ramírez slugged it low and hard, just clearing the left-center field fence. Adding injury to ineffectiveness, Pérez, at some point during the inning, cut the top of his left thumb (with his index finger) while throwing a breaking pitch.
The injury is no big deal, Pérez said.
Midway through the fifth inning, though, the thumb was still bothering Pérez. After fielding a bunt and throwing to first, Pérez started shaking his hand, prompting the team trainer to check on him. One batter later, Pérez exited.
"You know, when you don't feel good, and when you throw up, too, it's like you don't have power," Pérez later said. "It was different, because I was trying to throw strikes and I was finding a way how to do it. But I couldn't. I threw too many pitches."