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Through rain, big picture still clear for Dodgers, Nats

WASHINGTON -- When the season opened, the series between the Dodgers and Nationals that began Monday night shaped up as an early chance to take the measure of two teams from opposite edges of the continent that could well see each other again in October. Maybe even with a trip to the World Series on the line. And that could still happen.

If it does, it's a safe bet that the atmosphere will be about as different as it could possibly be. Let's just say that when the announcement comes that the last Metro train on the Greenbelt Line will be leaving shortly comes in the bottom of the fourth, something really strange is going on.

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In this case, it was a rain delay of three hours and 17 minutes, which meant that the Nats didn't wrap up their 4-0 win until 1:21 a.m. ET. And when play resumed with midnight rapidly approaching, only a few hundred hardy souls stuck around to see it through.

Anybody who stayed had a pretty decent chance of getting a foul ball as a souvenir.

The long interruption meant neither starter, Washington's Jordan Zimmermann or Los Angeles' Zack Greinke, returned when the tarp finally came off the field. For Greinke, it was a curious way to end an impressive streak. He had previously made 18 straight regular-season starts of five or more innings pitched with two or fewer runs allowed. The two-run homer Greinke gave up to Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon in the bottom of the first turned out to be all the runs Washington would need.

The big topic in the home clubhouse afterward, however, was the eerie silence in which the final five innings were played.

"The fans were going crazy," deadpanned Zimmermann. "The place wasn't exactly rocking. But it's a game we had to play and we wanted to win. That was the main thing."

Reliever Aaron Barrett, who followed Zimmermann and was credited with the win, compared it to an exhibition atmosphere.

"Like you're in Kissimmee or something like that," he said with a smile. "But regardless, you've got to go out there and make pitches and get guys out."

Second baseman Danny Espinosa's two-run homer in the eighth off Pedro Baez gave the Nats some cushion.

"You could hear everything at that point," Espinosa said. "It was like a game on a back field at Spring Training. But you've just got to stay focused and locked in like you would any other game."

Five weeks into the season, neither Washington nor Los Angeles has hit its stride yet. These are teams that were widely viewed as the class of their divisions. Both have battled injuries. Both are holding their own. Neither has dominated yet the way many anticipated they would.

"It's been OK," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "You can't say you're totally disappointed with the way we're playing. But you can't say you're really happy with the way things are going, either. I think we know we're better than this. We've been inconsistent offensively. We've been consistently not very good defensively, which I think has hurt us as much as anything.

"It's nothing great. It's one of those things. We're in the pack. We're OK. You'd like to get off to a 21-6 start, but that doesn't happen very often. I think we're better than this. We need to get more consistent. Our starting pitching has really been pretty good. We really can't complain about that. There are times when the starters could have gone a little deeper into games and taken some pressure off our bullpen, but for the most part, they've kept us in games."

It's still early in the season. Nobody has to remind the Dodgers how dramatically things can turn around. On June 21 last season, they were 12 games under .500 and rumors swirled that big changes were coming. Then they won 46 of their next 56 and won the National League West going away.

But when it got to be the early hours of Tuesday morning, Nationals manager Matt Williams didn't mind hanging around.

"If we didn't play, that game's washed out and then we're looking at a potential day-night doubleheader [Tuesday], and then our pitching is in rough shape," he said. "We stuck it out and we were able to win it.

"You just have to stay focused. You look at it as an opportunity. If you're behind, we waited around this long, so we might as well win it. And if you're ahead, you certainly want to keep the lead. It depends on what side you're on at the time, but that's the way you look at it."

Paul Hagen is a reporter for

Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers