- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2006

NEW YORK — Beltran Perez is 16 years younger than Tom Glavine, had won 288 fewer games in his major league career and probably could count on one hand the number of fans at Shea Stadium last night who had ever heard of him.

So naturally, the Washington Nationals rookie right-hander outpitched his soon-to-be Hall of Fame counterpart in a 7-3 victory over the New York Mets.

Perez, making his second career start, held the National League East division champions to two runs on four hits in 61/3 standout innings, then watched as his teammates pounded out four runs on eight hits against Glavine, the wily left-hander making his 634th career start.

“It’s very emotional for me,” Perez said through a translator. “He’s a Hall of Fame caliber pitcher.”

That’s just the way things seem to be going for the Nationals these days. They took three of four from a far-superior opponent, they’re now 14-10 since Aug. 30 and they need to win only once over the season’s final six games at home to reach a 70-victory plateau that looked unattainable not long ago.

“It speaks volumes for the guys out there,” manager Frank Robinson said. “They know they’ve had a tough year. They know it. But they have kept going out there and given the effort each day, no matter how bad things have gotten. They didn’t let that drag them down, and they haven’t given up. I really respect that.”

Washington (69-87) has played a better brand of baseball in September in no small part because of the contributions of several young players. Perez (2-0) has been one of them, posting a 1.50 ERA in seven appearances since getting called up from Class AA Harrisburg at the beginning of the month.

Of course, none of the baby Nationals has impressed as much as Ryan Zimmerman, the 21-year-old third baseman who bolstered his NL Rookie of the Year chances last night with a three-run double off Glavine to put his team on top for good.

After an emotional game Sunday, in which each player wore his socks up high to honor injured first baseman Nick Johnson, the Nationals got back to business last night. Pant legs were pulled back down, Johnson’s jersey was removed from the dugout wall and baseball was the only thing on anyone’s mind.

The Nationals needed to keep all of their focus on the field because they faced a stiff challenge with the 40-year-old Glavine and his 289 career wins on the mound for the Mets against the 24-year-old Perez and his one career win.

Perez, though, already made a name for himself in his first career start last week, shutting out the Atlanta Braves over six innings. The right-hander wasn’t quite as sharp last night — he walked six batters — but he made some adjustments and kept New York from stringing together hits in bunches.

“I like what I see with this young man,” Robinson said. “He’s got a good idea of what to do and how to do it and what his strengths and weaknesses are. He doesn’t get frustrated, and he doesn’t get upset with anything out there on the mound. He just stays within the game.”

Perez’s only real mistake came on an 0-1 pitch to Shawn Green to lead off the second. The right fielder tagged it over the right-field fence to give New York a 1-0 lead. Otherwise, he was in control. He walked two straight batters to open the third but got out of the jam allowing only one run to score.

By then, the Nationals had given the young Dominican a lead to work with thanks to yet another clutch hit from Zimmerman. Given a chance to bat with the bases loaded in the third, he drilled Glavine’s pitch to the right-center field gap, then watched as Bernie Castro, Felipe Lopez and Alfonso Soriano all came around to score on the rookie’s 46th double of the season.

Zimmerman has now driven in 104 runs, tops on the roster and among major league rookies. He also has come on strong the last week, helping strengthen his case for rookie honors.

Over his last six games, Zimmerman has nine hits, five doubles, a homer and seven RBI, perhaps catapulting him ahead of Florida Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla (two for his last 31) in the down-to-the-wire race.

“I’m seeing the ball a lot better,” Zimmerman said. “And I’m getting good pitches to hit, even when I’m getting out. I feel a lot more comfortable.”

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