LOS ANGELES - The Dodgers, as the Nationals saw firsthand last October, are awfully vulnerable against left-handed pitching. Even though they've improved somewhat in that regard this season, so many of their prominent batters swing from the left side of the plate that an opposing manager would be foolish not to play the matchups as much as possible when given the opportunity.
Dusty Baker knew that heading into Monday night's game. And so - aided in part by the fact Koda Glover reported a sore arm shortly before first pitch and thus was unavailable - the Nationals manager maximized his arsenal of left-handers during a 4-2 victory.
"They had all those dangerous lefties on the bench," Baker said. "And we were trying to keep them on the bench."
The tone was set by Gio Gonzalez, who despite a couple of harrowing moments along the way tossed six innings of two-run ball, retired 11 in a row at one point and emerged with a 5-1 record and 3.03 ERA for the season.
Gonzalez's plan against this right-handed-heavy lineup?
"Pretty much go after them, attack as much as you can," he said. "Today the equalizer for me was the curveball. I was able to throw that pitch and land it when I needed to. And the changeup followed. So it was a lot of attacking the strike zone, being aggressive in the strike zone and trying to minimize as many walks as possible."
Once Gonzalez had fired 107 bullets and had nothing left to give, Baker still needed nine outs from his bullpen. Glover, who threw 22 pitches during a multi-inning appearance Sunday in Oakland, was unavailable. And so Baker decided to turn to his lefties to bring this one home.
The key was Enny Romero, who not only pitched a scoreless seventh but did so on few enough pitches to be able to come back and pitch a scoreless eighth as well. Each time, he put the leadoff man on base. Each time, he retired three straight batters, two via strikeout.
After getting Enrique HernÃ¡ndez to end the eighth, Romero bounded off the mound, throwing his left arm forward like a hammer in one of his biggest displays of emotion to date.
"Very excited," he said. "Because (pitching in) the game situation ... two runs up, that's the hope for me. I was just excited."
"He wants it so bad," catcher Matt Wieters said. "It's just a matter of getting him to where he trusts his ability. And he did that tonight."
The final out of the game, then belonged to an unlikely pitcher. PÃ©rez has made 518 big league appearances over 15 years, but this was only the third time he recorded the final out in a save situation.
He understood this appearance wasn't like most.
"They always say the last out is the hardest out," he said. "Because you just want to get it done. Every out is important, but the last out is kind of special."
PÃ©rez opened up his entire bag of tricks to get that last out. Grandal fouled off the first four pitches he saw, then took two balls.
With the count now 2-2, Wieters signaled for a slider.
"Oliver did a great job getting ahead 0-2, so we kind of have our pick what to go with," the catcher said. "He took one swing on a breaking ball that made it look like he kind of wasn't looking for the breaking ball. So we threw a fastball and then went back to it. But the good thing about Oliver is, he can throw either pitch in any count. It really doesn't matter what the count is when he feels comfortable throwing the breaking ball."
PerÃ©z's pitch, which he also threw with a quicker delivery than his usual twisting motion, caught Grandal by surprise. The Dodgers batter watched it float past him for strike three.
"It was to change the read on that," PÃ©rez said of his altered delivery. "I did like two turns (on previous pitches), so I had to do something else, because he already saw (six) pitches. I had to make sure I was throwing the right way and with the right movement."
With that, PÃ©rez notched the third save of his career, first since 2013 when he pitched for the Mariners. He also became the sixth different Nationals reliever to be credited with a save this season.
* Horton's Kids, a nonprofit organization that empowers children living in one of Washington's most at-risk neighborhoods, is hosting its ninth annual Home Runs for Horton's Kids on June 21 at Nationals Park. Attendees will have the opportunity to bat from the plate at the stadium and play catch in the outfield, as well as other activities.
Tickets can be purchased at http://hortonskids.org/homeruns with all proceeds supporting Horton's Kids. Admission is free for children under 14.