Pistons. Dodgers pitcher Derek Lowe couldn't stop thinking about them. Not the ones pushed and pulled by a crankshaft. Not the type propelled by a mix of air and fuel.
Not even the metaphorical kind, Lowe's piston-like pitches that stymied the Angels for seven innings Sunday and led to a 7-0 victory in front of a third consecutive sellout crowd at Dodger Stadium, giving the Dodgers their first series sweep over their Southland rivals.
Lowe is a former high school basketball star from Dearborn, Mich., and the Pistons on his mind -- the ones from Detroit -- were playing the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals.
He wore a Pistons ski cap in the clubhouse but refrained from checking on the progress of Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, et al., between innings. He didn't want to know anything because he was recording the game for later viewing. In fact, taped above his locker was the message, "Please do not tell me the Pistons score."
Maybe he should have asked "pretty please." Lowe departed quickly afterward because his teammates -- giddy from winning their fifth series in a row -- were jokingly hinting at the outcome of the game, which the Pistons won, 79-61.
However, he paused long enough to give pitching coach Rick Honeycutt credit for developing a radical game plan that had Lowe uncharacteristically jamming left-handed hitters with four-seam fastballs.
"I've never thrown so many four-seamers in my life," he said. "Everything I threw inside was a cutter or four-seamer."
Lowe's bread-and-butter pitch is a two-seam fastball that sinks. Honeycutt noticed that the Angels' left-handed hitters tend to hang over the plate looking for pitches low and outside, such as the pitch from Brett Tomko that Dallas McPherson drilled for an opposite-field home run a day earlier.
So Lowe countered with four-seamers that moved up and in. Garret Anderson, playing for the first time since suffering a strained hamstring May 14, struck out twice against Lowe and McPherson grounded into a double play. Adam Kennedy, who came in nine for 18 against Lowe, struck out and hit a comebacker after walking in the first inning.
The Angels' best opportunity, in fact, came in the first inning, but third baseman Willy Aybar made a nice play charging a topper by Robb Quinlan with two out and the bases loaded.
"He walked two in the first but set a different tone," Honeycutt said. "He got them thinking."
The tenor was also changed from the first two games of the series because this time the Dodgers struck first, in the form of a single by Kenny Lofton, a double by Nomar Garciaparra, a single by Aybar and a three-run home run by rookie Andre Ethier to key a five-run first inning.
"It was good to go out and get runs early for Lowe," Garciaparra said.
The lead suggested to Lowe (2-3) that his hard luck was behind him. He hadn't won since April 13 despite giving up two earned runs or fewer in seven of his last eight starts.
The Angels probably feel as if they haven't won since then either. They are 17-27, their slowest start since 1988 and the first time they have been 10 games under .500 since September 2003.
"Our challenge is getting the ship righted and going the right direction," said Manager Mike Scioscia, whose team has lost five straight and seven of eight. "We could be playing the Wombats right now and it wouldn't matter."
Actually, it will be the division rival Texas Rangers the next three days. The Angels will drag into Arlington with a tired bullpen. Scioscia pinch-hit for Ervin Santana early, after he had thrown only 53 pitches in four innings, but Erick Aybar grounded out to lead off the fifth.
"If we put up a couple runs there, it could give the game a different complexion," Scioscia said. "We needed offense at that point."
The Dodgers have been getting plenty. They outscored the Angels, 31-7, in the series. Lofton had three hits Sunday, and Garciaparra had two doubles and three runs batted in.
It all seems to be coming together for the Dodgers, who have won four in a row and 12 of 15 to move four games over .500 (24-20) for the first time.
"Every time we come to the park we are expecting to win the ballgame," Manager Grady Little said. "That's a good feeling."