- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2008

— Odalis Perez first noticed the pain in one of his lower left molars about 10 days ago, but like most people afraid of the dentist, he waited as long as he could before conceding defeat and making an appointment.

The pain, though, became too much for Perez to bear late Tuesday night, so yesterday morning the Washington Nationals left-hander went to a local dentist and spent more than four hours having emergency root canal.

And then he went out an inflicted some serious pain on the San Diego Padres, offering up 6 1/3 standout innings and then riding Jesus Flores’ grand slam to a 6-4 victory at PETCO Park.

“He did a tremendous job,” manager Manny Acta said. “The guy had a root canal this morning and went out there and battled for us. I think we’re scheduling [another] one in five days for him.”

After what he went through, Perez (2-4) won’t be offering to make any more trips to the dentist anytime soon, no matter how well he pitched after the fact.

As the veteran hurler described it, he was in so much pain Tuesday night that he couldn’t sleep and instead was forced to stay up and watch rerun after rerun of “SportsCenter.” He finally got a couple hours of shut-eye but had to wake up at 8 a.m. so he could make his appointment.

He emerged in mid-afternoon, his tooth fixed but his body weak from the procedure, the pain killers he was on and a lack of food. Still, he insisted he never doubted he would pitch.

“No,” he said. “I said, ‘Let me get to the ballpark because I don’t feel good at all.’ But I came in and took a pill, the pain goes away and I was able to go out.”

And pitch quite well. Perez allowed just one run on four hits over his first six innings, and though he hit a wall in the seventh, allowing back-to-back doubles before getting pulled, he somehow emerged on top.

“I didnt know if I would be able to go two or three innings because I was so weak,” he said afterward.

Perez owed a debt of gratitude to his batterymate, Flores, who provided the biggest hit of the night with a fourth-inning grand slam off Padres left-hander Shawn Estes, snapping what had been a scoreless game to that point. Estes was enduring a nightmare inning in which he, in succession, allowed a single to Aaron Boone, walked Dmitri Young, uncorked a wild pitch, bounced another ball to the backstop and then plunked Lastings Milledge.

All that left the bases loaded for Flores, perhaps the last man the Padres wanted to see at the plate at that point. No Nationals hitter has proved as dangerous the last three weeks as the 23-year-old catcher, who entered with a .333 average and a .544 slugging percentage that ranks second only to Boone on the roster.

All this from a guy with 98 games of big league experience who was supposed to spend the season developing at Class AAA.

Flores apparently is having no trouble learning at the major league level. He certainly had no trouble launching Estes’ 1-2 fastball over the left-field fence for his first career grand slam.

“It was huge,” Flores said. “That was a great feeling right there, especially being behind in the count, just looking for a good pitch to hit. He [did] me a favor throwing me that fastball.”

That blast put the Nationals up 4-0, and they created some breathing room later thanks to a homer from Milledge and a sacrifice fly from Boone that made it 6-1.

But thats when things started to get dicey. After Perez allowed the back-to-back doubles in the seventh, Acta wasted no time turning to his bullpen.

With Saul Rivera unavailable two days after throwing 44 pitches in a ballgame, Brian Sanches was the surprising man summoned from the bullpen to clean up the mess, but he only made things worse. Scott Hairston clubbed the right-hander’s third pitch deep to left for a two-run homer, and suddenly that comfortable lead was down to two runs.

A sinking single to right ended Sanches’ brief outing and left Luis Ayala to get out of the jam, which he did with aplomb. Though he plunked Adrian Gonzalez in the foot, Ayala managed to get Brian Giles to foul out and then struck out Kevin Kouzmanoff to kill the rally and send Washington on its way to victory.

“He was the key for us,” Acta said. “Just retired everybody he faced. He won the ballgame for us pretty much.”



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