- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2007

There are nights when a ballclub is rendered helpless by an opposing pitcher on top of his game and has no choice but to acknowledge his dominance and move on to the next day.

It’s a part of baseball, and every once in a while it happens.

Unfortunately for the Washington Nationals, it has happened twice in as many nights, and that could be growing cause for concern.

Feeding off teammate Brad Penny’s unblemished performance Tuesday, Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Derek Lowe duplicated the feat last night at RFK Stadium, thoroughly dismantling the Nationals’ lineup in a 5-0 victory before a crowd of 20,245.

Lowe, one of the sport’s best sinkerball specialists when on his game, tossed seven brilliant innings of three-hit ball to send Washington to its second straight shutout loss.

“He was good. He was better than we were tonight,” right fielder Austin Kearns said.

As bad as the Nationals’ offense has been at times this season, never before has it been dominated like this. One night after managing four singles and a double against Penny and two relievers, manager Manny Acta’s club produced only four singles against Lowe and a pair of relievers.

The result was another disappointing loss to the National League West leaders and a further distancing from last week’s successful road trip through the Midwest.

The Washington club that returned home Tuesday from a 5-2 swing through Cincinnati and St. Louis was flying high, thanks in no small part to a resurgent lineup that hit a robust .310 with 27 extra-base hits on the road.

So much for momentum. The Nationals (21-32) of the last two nights have borne no resemblance to that squad. After averaging seven runs a game on the road, they now have a 19-inning scoreless streak going.

“We lost two games against two good pitchers, and that’s all the way I see it,” Acta said. “You don’t get any extra points for shutouts or get taken any points away for shutouts. To me, it’s just win and lose.”

Lowe (5-5) had plenty to do with last night’s loss, allowing only one man to reach second base (Felipe Lopez, who would have been gunned down trying to steal in the third inning had shortstop Rafael Furcal not dropped the ball for an error).

Facing a dominant opponent like that, Nationals starter Mike Bacsik had little chance. Bacsik (1-1) did his best to try to keep his club in the game, but the recently recalled left-hander knew what he was up against.

“Sure, it’s human nature to know that the other team’s throwing the ball good,” he said. “That’s a very good team, and the way Derek Lowe threw the ball, it was going to be really tough to get a win tonight.”

Bacsik did just about as much as could be expected last night, allowing two earned runs over six innings to keep things relatively close. But when he needed to be perfect, he made a couple of costly mistakes.

Trailing 1-0 in the fifth, Bacsik could have escaped a two-out jam, but he made a critical error in walking Lowe to prolong the inning and give the Dodgers new life.

“I should have been more aggressive,” Bacsik said. “After two balls, I really tried to guide the ball over the plate instead of throw it, which led to the walk.”

It was only the latest in a stunning string of mistakes Washington pitchers have made against Los Angeles pitchers in this series. Penny went 2-for-2 with a sacrifice bunt Tuesday; Lowe wound up singling and drawing two walks last night.

Not surprisingly, the Dodgers made them pay for the gaffes. Furcal followed Lowe’s fifth-inning walk with an RBI single to right, making it 2-0.

“You can’t walk the pitcher,” Acta said. “We walked the pitcher twice, and that cost us two runs. We can’t allow ourselves to do that kind of stuff if we want to compete with teams like that.”

Bacsik lasted one more inning, again giving up two runs (though this time with no help from his defense). Shortstop Cristian Guzman booted Jeff Kent’s grounder to his left, and that allowed Russell Martin to club a two-out, two-run homer moments later to put the Nationals in a 4-0 hole that looked even larger with Lowe on the mound.

“A good pitcher, in a good pitcher’s park, when they’re on their game and our offense is not the best in the league … it’s just a tough night for us,” Acta said. “We have to play, as we always say, near-perfect to beat guys like that. And we didn’t obviously.”

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