<
>

Wilkerson's slam powers Patterson, Nats to win

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Through all the injuries and crises of
confidence, John Patterson never let go of the hope that this type
of night would come along.

Showing all of the promise that made him a No. 1 draft pick in
1996, Patterson capped a string of brilliant outings with the best
of all Thursday night. He struck out a career-high 13 in his first
complete game shutout and led Washington past the Los Angeles
Dodgers 7-0 for the Nationals' first series victory in a month.

Finally getting serious run support thanks to Brad Wilkerson's
grand slam and rare recent contributions from Vinny Castilla and
Cristian Guzman, Patterson improved to 5-3 with a 2.42 ERA.

"This is what I've always believed that I could do. I mean, if
I would have given up on that I don't know how far I would have
eventually gotten," Patterson said. "I believed that I could turn
it around and get over the injuries, get healthy and go out and
pitch and show the potential that everybody thought I had early in
my career."

He allowed four hits and no walks, never allowing a runner past
second base. He struck out everyone in the Dodgers starting lineup
at least once, getting Jeff Kent, Jose Valentin, Oscar Robles and
Dioner Navarro twice each.

"His ball was jumping," Dodgers manager Jim Tracy said.

"I haven't seen anybody pitch better all year," said Dodgers
outfielder Milton Bradley, 0-for-4 with a strikeout. "It was
definitely a special night for him."

And one Patterson felt was a long time coming.

He had "Tommy John" right elbow ligament surgery in 2000,
started the next season on the disabled list, had brief stints in
the majors with Arizona, then was traded to Montreal but was on the
DL for more than two months in 2004 because of a right groin
strain. Patterson went 4-7 with a 5.03 ERA last season, and only
began 2005 in the Nationals' rotation because of a spring training
injury to Tony Armas Jr.

But he clearly has turned a corner, especially lately. He has a
1.02 ERA with 54 strikeouts over his past six starts.

"I'm learning at a very fast rate right now," Patterson said.
"I feel like I can do things now without worrying about looking
over my shoulder, whether I'm going to be hurt. It's been an
amazing year."

He got help from a Nationals offense that hadn't scored more
than four runs in the previous 15 games. Wilkerson's homer off
reliever Duaner Sanchez on a 3-2 pitch with two outs in the eighth
was Washington's first grand slam of the season; it was the only
club in the majors without one.

"It just feels good to score more than four or five runs,"
Wilkerson said.

The Nationals took two of three games from Los Angeles to halt a
slide in which they had lost seven consecutive series since
sweeping the Chicago Cubs on July 1-3. That was also the last time
Washington won consecutive games.

"You see that little look in their eye that's been missing for
a while," Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. "It looks like
the confidence level is back."

Washington scored twice off Dodgers starter Brad Penny (5-7) in
the fourth inning, with help from some unlikely sources.

Castilla, who entered the night batting .108 over his last 12
games, hit an RBI double to make it 1-0. He moved to third on a
groundout, then scored on a groundout by Guzman, who came into the
game hitting .189 and collected his first RBI since June 20.

Guzman drove in another run in the eighth by singling through a
draw-in infield off Sanchez, who walked two batters to load the
bases. If Guzman hadn't made it 3-0, Robinson would have pinch hit
for Patterson, who was on deck.

"It's about time I do something for the team," Guzman said.

Because he did, Patterson stayed in for the ninth.

When he walked off the mound after the first complete game
shutout in Nationals history, Patterson tipped his cap to the
appreciative crowd of 35,484.

"I just feel comfortable," Patterson said. "For the first
time in my career, I feel comfortable in the clubhouse. I feel
comfortable in the city. I feel comfortable with the fans."

Game notes
LHP Wilson Alvarez rejoined the Dodgers after taking a
couple of days away to contemplate his future. He'll now be used in
middle relief. ... Umpire Jerry Crawford appeared to hurt his right
leg while making a call at second base on a double play in the
first inning. He was checked by a trainer and stayed in the game.