"I'm not really a different pitcher right now," he said, before relating that in some senses, indeed he is. "I'm focused more, and I don't get lost quickly. That's very important for me this year."
The importance, of course, forms out of scarcity. Friday night wasn't an aberration -- Perez usually has good stuff and noticeable desire. Yet there's often one small trigger -- a two-out walk, or a solo home run -- that will throw him on tilt, and turn an isolated problem into a mental meltdown.
So for much of Friday's start, there was a cautious optimism floating over Shea. It's natural to want to revel in the lefty's mastery, but awfully hard to do that with one eye on an impending storm.
That storm, this time, never came. Perez posted his best line since June, allowing just three hits over his seven innings, and while he walked five, only one of those runners made it as far as second base.
"He got his velocity up, and when he gets his velocity up, there's a little more sharpness to that breaking ball," said third baseman David Wright. "He fooled a lot of hitters."
And fooled few fans. Those waiting for the other shoe to drop were left hanging, and Perez was left with a solid building block entering the season's final month.
"When he gets on a roll, he's pretty unhittable," Wright said. "That's a pretty good lineup they're throwing up there, and for him to go seven scoreless -- especially [since] his pitch count was a little high early in the game -- that's a blessing for our bullpen."
And the bullpen certainly needed the blessing. After closer Billy Wagner blew two saves in three games earlier this week against San Diego, he came in this game with a four-run lead and didn't hesitate to usher the tying run to the plate. Yet only one of those four baserunners scored, in a mirror image of an eighth inning that saw Jorge Sosa load the bases and allow the other Dodgers run.
It was just another struggle in a month full of bullpen struggles, but this time, Perez had bailed them out in advance.
"I don't think anybody's out there on pins and needles when he pitches. He has a way of turning it up and doing what he's got to do, and tonight was no different than normal."
-- Billy Wagner, on Oliver Perez
"[Bullpen troubles are] going to happen," said manager Willie Randolph. "You just hope that when it does, it's not at a time when you need them to step up. It's not puzzling at all. I'm real proud of our bullpen. They've carried us at times this year."
On Friday, Perez did the heavy lifting, with an awfully big assist from Wright. Aside from the third baseman's opposite-field homer in the fifth, Wright also added an RBI single in the third, and he made two sparkling defensive plays in the sixth to keep the Dodgers off the board.
The first of those was the most impressive -- and the quirkiest, to boot. After Andre Ethier hit a chopper just to the right of the mound, Perez deflected it away from a charging Wright, who in turn switched directions, picked the ball on a hop and fired to first in the same motion.
Apparently, the extra infield practice he took before the game paid off.
"It seems to be a trend, I'm a little better with my bare hand," joked Wright. "I should think twice about using my glove next time."
But certainly not his bat. Wright's offensive efforts were complemented by those of Jose Reyes, who sparked single-run rallies in the first and third innings -- once with a leadoff walk and then with a leadoff double. The Mets added two more in the eighth on a Lastings Milledge single and a Marlon Anderson sacrifice fly, providing the insurance needed to transform Los Angeles' ensuing rally from a nail-biter to a head-scratcher.
Of course, the Mets had already exhaled a bit in advance, thanks to the efforts of Perez. And while they can only hope that this is the start of a new run of consistency, they also can't be surprised about a pitcher whose success -- while unpredictable -- is rarely unexpected.
"The kid's out there battling just like every one of us," Wagner said. "I don't think anybody's out there on pins and needles when he pitches. He has a way of turning it up and doing what he's got to do, and tonight was no different than normal."