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Dodgers Victims of a Power Play

Times Staff Writer

Reaction throughout baseball to the Washington Nationals’ acquisition of Preston Wilson three weeks ago was a collection of yawns, rolled eyes and snickers.

He was too expensive. He can’t hit a curveball. He strikes out too much. It was a clear case of General Manager Jim Bowden spending frivolously, making a move just to create a stir.

Washington has lost 14 of 19 since taking on Wilson and his $12.5-million contract from the Colorado Rockies. But for one night he made a difference, hitting a two-run home run in a 3-1 victory over the Dodgers Wednesday night.

Dodger starter D.J. Houlton (4-5), whose best pitch is a curveball, threw a high fastball that Wilson hit out in the fourth inning with Jose Guillen on base to put the Nationals ahead, 2-1.

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“It was a fastball, up and over the middle,” Houlton said. “He’s the kind of guy who swings hard.”

Normally, the Nationals don’t. The Nats are like gnats, pesky rather than powerful. They rank last in the National League in most hitting categories, including home runs.

A large factor is spacious RFK Stadium, where only 52 home runs were hit in the first 50 games this season. But seven have been struck in the first two games of this series.

The last National run came via the long ball, when Nick Johnson homered against Giovanni Carrara in the eighth.

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And the only Dodger run came on a homer by Milton Bradley in the third inning, his 11th of the season and first since coming off the disabled list 11 days ago.

The Dodgers hit four home runs in the series opener. But this time it was a failure to deliver when a simple single would do that did them in. They left eight runners on base, including two in the second and two in the fourth.

Their best opportunity might have taken shape in the eighth with the score still 2-1, however. Oscar Robles led off with a single, bringing the switch-hitting Bradley to the plate right-handed.

Only three days ago, critics howled when Manager Jim Tracy had Bradley bunt with two on and none out in the ninth inning of a tie game. Yet the manager and player both insisted the move was sound.

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This time, Bradley tried to bunt on his own and popped up to the catcher. Jeff Kent struck out and Jose Valentin grounded out to end the minor threat.

And this time, Tracy and Bradley agreed the bunt was not a smart idea.

“I tried to be a genius and it backfired,” Bradley said. “It turned out to be the dumbest thing I possibly could have done. I overanalyzed the whole situation and tried to trick them.”

Said Tracy, shaking his head: “You are in a situation where you represent the go-ahead run.”

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The Dodgers needed two runs to tie in the ninth and Tracy’s pinch-hitting options were limited because Jason Phillips was out of the game after being hit by a pitch and bruising his left hand in the fourth. Rookie catcher Dioner Navarro had to bat with one out despite a .200 average because the Dodgers had no catcher on the bench.

Navarro flied out deep to right field. Pinch-hitter Ricky Ledee singled, but pinch-hitter Hee-Seop Choi struck out, giving Chad Cordero his 36th save.

Phillips, who has played first base several days in a row since losing the starting catching job to Navarro, will be sidelined today. Mike Edwards is the backup catcher.

“It’s really fat and swollen,” Phillips said. “I can’t squeeze my hand. We’ll give it a couple of days and hopefully it will be better.”

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