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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Perez, Nats Blank Mets 1-0

Washington -- The Washington Nationals are again proving to be the Achilles' heel to the New York Mets in a pennant race. After giving the Mets so much trouble last season during the Mets now-famous collapse to fall out of the playoffs, the Nats are up to it again. Washington has now defeated the Mets two straight games, including Tuesday night's 1-0 shut out by Odalis Perez and company, and have knocked the once division-leadings New Yorkers from first place in the N.L. East. Philadelphia beat Atlanta, moving a half-game in front of the slumping Mets for the first time since August 26.

Perez was simply outstanding on the mound -- and in the batter's box -- for the home team last night. He went seven and one-third shut out innings, allowing only four hits and walking no one, striking out six. The Mets scratched out just four singles, two of which were back-to-back pinch-hits in the eighth inning.

At that point, Manager Manny Acta went to rookie reliever Mike Hinckley, who forced SS Jose Reyes to bounce into a fielder's choice and struck out Ryan Church to end the threat. Hinckley has yet to allow a run in his first nine major league innings pitched. Joel Hanrahan pitched a perfect ninth inning to record his ninth save of the season, striking out two. Perez (W, 7-10, 4.26), the veteran left-hander signed right before the season, retired thirteen in a row at one point and did not allow a runner to advance past second base. It was his longest outing since 2005.

"He had the best command of the season so far," Washington manager Manny Acta said. "He threw every one of his pitches for strikes. He was able to stop the middle of the lineup. He was just tremendous."

Mike Pelfrey (13-10, 3.67) was the hard luck loser for the Mets. He went seven innings, allowing one run on seven hits and four walks, striking out four.

The lone run of the game came in the fifth inning. With two down already, Perez lashed a soft liner to left center field, which LF Fernando Tatis dove for and missed, allowing the ball to get by and Perez to trot into second base with a double. Tatis would stay down in tremendous pain, and was helped off by members of the Mets training staff. He separated his right shoulder on the play, and will miss the rest of the season. When play resumed, Pelfrey walked lead-off hitter Willie Harris. As he's done all season long, SS Cristian Guzman came up with a big hit, delivering a ground rule double into the Mets bullpen to score the only run needed for the evening.

Harris would save that lead in the top of the sixth, as he made an outstanding Willie Mays-style catch with his back to home plate off a drive to left by David Wright with two out and two on. "It was a great play," Wright said. "But we needed to do a better job of putting more pressure on them in more innings, not just having one opportunity and have that make or break the game."

For the Mets, memories of last season's collapse -- especially losses to the lowly Nationals -- have to be creeping back into their consciousness.

Wednesday night is game three of the four game set. Nats rookie Shairon Martis (0-2, 2.70) takes on Mets rookie Brandon Knight (0-0, 6.43). Knight made one start in July for the Mets, and has made two subsequent relief appearances. This is a spot start, as Friday's rainout pushed Johan Santana's regular turn off. Knight pitched for the U.S. Olympic Team in Beijing this summer. Martis makes his third start for the Nats.

NATS NOTES: The win raises the Nats record to 58-93, 26 games behind Philadelphia in the division. The win also moves Washington out of the worst record in the majors, one half-game ahead of Seattle.

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