- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 28, 2007

LOS ANGELES — The Washington Nationals have been, statistically speaking, the least-powerful team in the major leagues this season. So the sight of three of his players homering last night at Dodger Stadium had to be encouraging to manager Manny Acta.

Acta, though, has been around long enough to know home runs don’t win ballgames. Pitching, defense and timely hitting do. And the Nationals had none of that during a 5-4 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Left-hander Mike Bacsik, who battled all night, couldn’t protect a two-run lead in the sixth inning. Reliever Jesus Colome didn’t help matters, surrendering the deciding single and sacrifice fly.

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Felipe Lopez exacerbated matters when he couldn’t get a handle on Jeff Kent’s hard smash to short that opened the inning, officially an infield single that could have been ruled an error.

And given a chance to rally late, the Nationals couldn’t get one last clutch hit. Austin Kearns struck out looking with two out and the tying run on second in the eighth, and Brian Schneider grounded into a game-ending double play in the ninth.

Put it all together and Washington (58-74) was handed its fourth straight loss, a difficult stretch that has turned this 10-game road trip sour. Actas club has two more chances to get back on track before heading home late tomorrow night.

Its easier said than done, the manager said. Weve still got to go out there and get it done. Were playing a tough team, and were going to have to go out there and perform and play better than we have been playing.

The Nationals power splurge last night seemingly came out of nowhere, and it certainly surprised most of the 46,944 in attendance.

Dodger Stadium, with its deep outfield alleys and cool, thick air, has long been averse to home runs. But the usually punchless Nationals didn’t seem to care, clubbing three homers off Derek Lowe.

Dmitri Young kicked things off with a solo blast on the first pitch he saw in the second inning. Kearns followed with a single, bringing Wily Mo Pena to the plate for the evening’s strangest (and most noteworthy at-bat).

Pena fouled off Lowe’s 2-1 offering and immediately recoiled in pain, having injured his left foot in the process. Acta and trainer Lee Kuntz checked on the slugger, who insisted he could complete the at-bat and dug back in.

I wanted to play, he said.

Two pitches later, Pena sent a towering shot into the left-field bleachers, a two-run homer that gave the Nationals the lead and would have served as an inspirational moment if not for the fact he could barely make it around the bases.

Doing his best impression of Kirk Gibson — the man who hit perhaps the most memorable home run in Dodger Stadium history, connecting off Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Series despite two injured knees — Pena limped the requisite 360 feet and then was escorted down the dugout tunnel and into the clubhouse training room.

It was tough, said Pena, who has never seen the Gibson homer. I know when anybody hits a homer, you have to run the bases. But that was a situation where I had to jump, because I didnt want to put any pressure on my foot. It was hurt. Its still bothering me, very sore.

Ryan Church took over in left field, and he figures to be back out there for a few days as Pena recovers from what was diagnosed as a bruised left foot. X-rays were negative, and Pena is likely to be held out of the lineup tonight (even though he believes he can play).

I told them Im fine tomorrow, he said. But they said no, take a couple days.

Any time Pena misses could be significant to the Nationals, who have become energized by the 25-year-old’s power burst. Last nights homer was his fourth in 10 games since his acquisition from the Boston Red Sox.

Perhaps he has brought out the best in his new teammates, as well. In addition to Pena and Young, Ryan Zimmerman also went deep last night, drilling a solo shot just to the left of center field for his fourth homer in his last seven games and 22nd of the season.

With its three unlikely homers off Lowe (11-11), Washington has now hit 95 balls out of the park this season, tied with the Dodgers for 29th place in the majors.

But as the Nationals discovered by night’s end, three home runs are no match for four straight singles, a misplayed ball and a sacrifice fly.

Lopez misplayed Kent’s leadoff grounder in the sixth, and Bacsik (5-8) proceeded to surrender two more singles before being pulled by Acta. Colome entered and allowed an RBI single to James Loney that tied the game. Ramon Martinez’s subsequent fly ball to center brought Russell Martin home with the go-ahead run, and the Dodgers never looked back from there.

If that plays made, its a different game, Bacsik said of the Lopez miscue. But thats the way baseball is. One play can turn a game, and thats what happened.

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