LOS ANGELES There are nights when hitters are rendered helpless by an opposing pitcher and simply tip their caps in his direction, offering congratulations for a job well done.
Sometimes, those sentiments are less than genuine and merely a defense mechanism by struggling ballplayers who don't want to acknowledge their own shortcomings.
But every once in a while, those same players truly mean what they say. Every once in a while, a pitcher is at the top of his game and gives the opposition no chance to control its own destiny.
Witness Derek Lowe's dismantling of the Washington Nationals Saturday night in a 6-0 shutout at Dodger Stadium. The Los Angeles right-hander surrendered one hit and one walk over eight sparkling innings.
And when it was over, the Nationals could do nothing but heap praise on the man who conquered them.
"He just beat us," left fielder Willie Harris said. "He just flat-out beat us."
It didn't help that Washington starter Odalis Perez put his team in a 3-0 hole after one inning and allowed three more runs to score before his evening ended early. But it wouldn't have mattered had Perez authored his own gem in this ballgame; his teammates simply weren't going to score a run.
This was the 14th time the Nationals have been shut out this season, tops in the majors, and the second time in three days they've posted a goose egg on the scoreboard. Having lost five straight to the Giants and Dodgers, they'll need a victory in Sundays series finale to avoid an 0-6 mark on this West Coast swing.
All that after leaving Atlanta a week ago with spirits soaring after scoring 23 combined runs in back-to-back wins over the Braves. So much for a carryover effect.
"That was only two games," manager Manny Acta said. "I don't judge any teams based on two games. A baseball season is 162. That's why I wasn't jumping up and down just because we scored a couple of runs in two games.
"We've been in this offensive slump the whole season, so I didn't think two games was going to get us out," Acta said.
Perez, who started 120 games for the Dodgers from 2002-06, was hoping for a better showing in his first appearance back at Chavez Ravine. The veteran left-hander, though, put himself behind the 8-ball from the very beginning and never recovered.
Plenty in the crowd of 42,122 hadn't even settled in when Perez (3-8) opened the bottom of the first allowing a lead-off single to Juan Pierre and then a two-run homer to Matt Kemp. Russell Martin followed with a double and later scored to make it 3-0, all but sealing the fates of both Perez and the Nationals.
For good measure, the Dodgers scored three more off Perez in the fourth, a sour end to his night that may raise questions about his future.
A logical candidate to be dealt before Thursday's trade deadline, Perez may be pitching his way out of contenders plans. He has allowed 14 runs and 26 hits over his last 15 innings, in the process raising his ERA to its highest point (4.38) since the second week of the season.
"When I got into the game, it was like: 'I don't have it,'" he said. "I don't know what went wrong. ... Every mistake I made, they were waiting for that pitch and drove it."
Not that it really mattered how well Perez pitched on a night Lowe appeared to put forth no effort in mowing down the Nationals' lineup.
Never breaking a sweat, the right-hander dominated because of his ability to get ahead of hitters with his trademark sinker over the outside corner of the plate. Lowe threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of the 26 men he faced, 15 of them called strikes.
"There's just nothing you're going to do with that pitch," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "He was automatically ahead 0-1."
Lowe (8-8) retired the first 10 batters of the night, plus the final 13. Washington's batters, unable to solve his sinker-slider combo, kept either taking strikes or pounding balls into the ground for easy outs.
There was no adjustment to be made at the plate.
"It was just tough to get into a hitters count, because it was 0-1 right away," Harris said. "I have to take pitches and work him over, but he was ahead of me all night, and he was ahead of a bunch of hitters tonight."
Which left the Nationals no other option but to tip their caps to the opposing pitcher for a job well done.
As Acta put it: "He did a number on us."