Years from now, when Julio Urias looks back at his first season in the major leagues, he will think of his debut in New York. He will recall pitching in front of his home crowd for the first time 11 days later.
Urias will also remember Wednesday night.
“It’s a dream,” he said in Spanish.
As the 19-year-old Urias limited the Washington Nationals to two runs and six hits over five innings in the Dodgers’ 4-3 victory, Oliver Perez was watching from the visiting bullpen at Dodger Stadium.
A once-promising starting pitcher, the 34-year-old Perez is entering the final stretch of a lengthy but largely unremarkable career. Now in his 14th major league season, the left-hander entered the series finale against the Dodgers with a lifetime record of 68-84 and an earned-run average of 4.45.
But in Urias’ hometown, Perez is a hero.
Urias and Perez are both from Culiacan, the capital of the Mexican state of Sinaloa. For the majority of Urias’ childhood, Perez was the city’s only major league player.
“From the time I met him, I trained 10, 11 years to be able to be here,” Urias said. “Now, we’re here together.”
There’s a considerable distance, both physically and mentally, from Culiacan to the major leagues. Perez shortened that distance for boys like Urias.
“He’s an idol to the children, to the people of Culiacan,” Urias said. “As we like to say, he’s ‘un caballo.’ ”
Literally translated, caballo means horse. In this context, it’s something closer to “the man.”
Urias thinks he was 8 years old when he first met Perez at a youth baseball league ceremony. Perez, who once played in the same league that Urias was pitching in, was already an established major leaguer with a 12-win season on his resume.
“For him to have the humility to visit kids like us, it was an example to us,” Urias said.
Urias asked Perez if he would take a photograph with him. Perez obliged and crouched next to the star-struck boy.
Urias never forgot the kindness Perez showed him that day, which is why Urias makes efforts to sign autographs and take pictures with young fans. When Urias is in Culiacan in the off-season, he occasionally drops by practices of youth teams.
As Urias started scaling up the Dodgers’ minor league system, he struck up a friendship with Perez, who offered him advice on everything from what he should do to take care of his body to what it’s like to pitch against major league hitters.
When Urias was looking for representation, he asked his mentor about his agent, Scott Boras. Urias also hired Boras.
Urias and Perez trained together this off-season, meeting every morning from Monday to Saturday to run, play catch and lift weights.
Perez sounded like a proud older brother as he talked about how far Urias has come and where he might go.
“Of course,” Perez said. “I’m really proud of everything he’s accomplished. What’s happening with him right now, it’s impressive, not only in Mexico, but anywhere. He’s 19, playing in the best baseball league in the world, it’s not easy.”
Especially in pressure-packed Los Angeles, Perez pointed out.
“Los Angeles has a very strong Mexican tradition,” Perez said. “Everyone knows what Fernando [Valenzuela] did here. They’re waiting for another pitcher of that level.”
With Perez watching from behind the bullpen gate in right field, Urias displayed the electric arm that has made him the top pitching prospect in the game.
He had six strikeouts, including two against Bryce Harper, the league’s reigning most valuable player.
The two runs he allowed were scored in the second inning. Ryan Zimmerman singled to right field and advanced to second base when Urias uncorked a wild pitch to Anthony Rendon. Zimmerman was doubled in by Danny Espinosa, who scored on a double by pitcher Joe Ross to move the Nationals in front, 2-1.
Urias departed the game with the score tied, 2-2. He threw a season-high 93 pitches.
Perez preserved the stalemate in the seventh inning, which he entered with one out and runners on second and third base. Perez struck out Enrique Hernandez and forced Corey Seager to fly out to center field.
With the game televised in Mexico by ESPN, there were probably boys in Culiacan who stayed up to watch the game with their fathers.
Urias thought back on the effect Perez had on him and wondered if he could have a similar influence on the next generation of players.
“Hopefully, I can now inspire the children the way he inspired me,” Urias said.