The Dodgers welcomed another huge crowd to their stadium on Saturday night, then did little to entertain them.
On a warm and energy-sapping evening, the home team slumbered its way through the first eight innings. Then the bullpen gate opened, the guy with the goggles emerged and an announced crowd of 49,112 sprang to life.
Eric Gagne provided a thrill, but not much help. In his long-awaited season debut, he gave up back-to-back home runs to the first two batters he faced, two of the four home runs hit by the Atlanta Braves in a 5-1 victory.
The Dodgers lost sole possession of first place in the National League West, and they also might have lost starter Odalis Perez to injury. Perez left the game after six innings because of stiffness in his left shoulder.
He will be evaluated today. Perez, who sat out much of spring training because of biceps tendinitis in his left arm, said he believed this injury was unrelated and said he was "not at all" concerned about a possible stint on the disabled list. The Dodgers have a day off this week, so they could skip his next turn without needing a replacement starter.
"I believe it's nothing for me to be concerned about," he said.
Perez said he felt the stiffness while warming up -- "I went into the game knowing I wasn't 100%," he said -- but did not advise trainers and coaches until after the fifth inning. He endured one more inning, but the Dodgers yanked him after noticing his fastball speed had dropped from 88-91 mph to 83-85 mph. By that time, he said, he was throwing mostly curves and changeups.
The Dodgers fell into a first-place tie with the Arizona Diamondbacks atop the National League West, and the San Diego Padres lurk one-half game behind.
The pack is back, and the next few weeks could determine whether the Dodgers properly belong at the head of the pack, or near it. The Dodgers started the season 12-2, but they are 9-13 since, and they do not play a team with a losing record until May 30.
The Dodgers collected five hits, none homers. Andruw Jones homered twice for the Braves, Chipper Jones and Raul Mondesi once each.
Gagne, activated Saturday after sitting out the first six weeks of the season because of a sprained right elbow, entered the game in the ninth inning. No game over here; the Braves led, 3-1.
"Once he got beyond the first couple batters, he settled himself down pretty good," Manager Jim Tracy said. "It's obviously a wise choice to get him out there when you're trailing and get him re-acclimated to the big league environment."
Chipper Jones homered on a 92-mph fastball. Andruw Jones homered on a 92-mph fastball. Julio Franco singled on an 83-mph changeup. But Gagne, who admitted to rushing his delivery amid the excitement of his return, struck out the next three hitters.
"I wasn't nervous," he said. "Maybe anxious."
Gagne said he "felt great" and would be available today. He still faces a two-game suspension, pending appeal. If he should need two days off because of a heavy workload, Gagne said he could drop the appeal and serve the suspension then.
"That's what I'm trying to do," he said.
But the still-unscheduled appeal could be heard before then, and Gagne is convinced the penalty for heckling an umpire from the bench while on the disabled list is one game too many.
"I violated a rule, but two games is ridiculous," he said. "Some guys get one game for fighting."