In their dealings, the artists will always tell you, the dealers have the upper hand. Yesterday provided a chance for the Washington Artists to gain some points as they battled the Washington Art Dealers in their first annual softball game.

What follows isn't a description of an upset. No new balance was struck. The dealers won. And the showdown that transpired on the sun-soaked Ellipse Yesterday could only be described as free-form. In artistic terms, it was not exactly abstract but far from a representational display of sport.

Standing by the sidelines, amid water coolers, six-packs of beer, ice chests, babies and dogs, Edwina Smith hinted at what was coming. Asked if she was a dealer, artist, curator, critic, printer of any of the other artistic species allowed to play, she answered, "Oh I live at the Beverly Court," as if that explained it all. She was, one assumed, since the court on the cosmopolitan strip of Columbia Road is a choice co-op for the city's artisans, a free artistic spirit.

Then there were the laissez-faire approaches to the game, its frills and its regulations. Neither team had enough gloves. About nine people played the outfield for each team. Peter Austin, a self-described "hybrid," meaning he works for a printing company, was using a lacrosse stick in center field. "It seems to be a loosely woven game," he observed, just after he missed a catch. The cheerleaders, with signs that urged "Gogh," Van Gogh," arrived at the bottom of the fifth inning.

In the leadership ranks, some tactics of the Earl Weaver woof-and-yell-em-down school emerged. Michael Clark, a painter, started out as captain of the artists' team but decided to pitch in the third inning. Painter Sam Gilliam became captain, chief coach and chief intimidator. "The dealers are cheating," he shouted, immediately trying to negotiate a trade of some of the dealers' players for his team.

Of course there was the free-form action, which, for the artists, had all the suspense of a Perils of Pauline movie. Would they catch the ball? In the bottom of the first inning, the artists' shortstop and third baseman collided. In minutes the dealers were ahead, 3-zip. "I don't know what that position was, maybe short center," explained artist Francisco Alavarado-Juarez. "Well, this is better than seeing each other at gallery openings," said sculptor Bert Ball.

In the top of the fifth inning, the artists scored three runs. "We're coming alive," shouted Big Al Young. "No, this is the time we are normally waking up," observed Leslie Kutek, one of the game's organizers. It was her idea to use the game to promote an all-Washington area show that opens June 5 at the Beverly Court, with works selected by the 27 artists who once exhibited at Lee's Laundry on Columbia Road.

A softball game also seemed the perfect time to work out any grudges between the two traditional antagonists. The artists/dealers relationship is one of sheer dependency and rambunctious gripes. "This is the first time we have gotten together in 20 years," joked Jack Rasmussen. While no one would admit to any particular bloodletting, the play got rougher each time Rasmussen and Chris Middendorf, both local gallery owners, came to bat. When Phil Carll, of the Adams-Davidson Gallery, and the dealers' captain was tagged out at home plate, there was a loud cheer. Only Marilyn Mahoney, a painter, said what was on her mind. "The only thing I was hoping for was more critics. I wanted them to be vulnerable."

Fun was the byword. "I figured the dealers were close to my pocketbook, though the artists are close to my heart," said Bernie Cherin, a documentary filmaker who played for the dealers.

With the artists down by three at the end of the original seven-inning game, Bob Arnebeck, an arts writer functioning as the umpire, added two more innings. It didn't help. In the bottom of the seventh inning, Ted Cooper of Adams-Davidson hit a double, Cherin a double, Rasmussen a single. Print dealer Jem Hom popped to the infield, Jim Mayo of the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum bunted. They burned at home plate.

"The game's not over until the fat lady sings," yelled Gilliam. Yet it was. The dealers came out ahead, 8-3, the final tally. The winning pitcher, Reid Baron, the editor of Galleries Magazine, received a paper bat sprayed the color of gold leaf. And in the shadow of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the artists gave up three cheers for the dealers and about 24 moans for the continuation of the traditional balance.