Dodgers right-hander Chad Billingsley dug himself and his beleaguered ballclub a mighty hole early against Washington on Sunday. It was deep, with the bases loaded. It was dark, with none out. And it was the first inning, so the last-place club that often offers little run support looked ready to suffocate. But pitching coach Rick Honeycutt visited the mound and told Billingsley he didn't have to escape the inning unscathed, that giving up a run was OK. So Billingsley did. He gave up a run. "After that," he said, "I knew that was all they were going to get." That was indeed all they got, as Billingsley (9-8) retired 21 of the next 22 batters he faced, starting with three consecutive strikeouts, to beat the Nationals, 3-1. And after seven innings, the 36,468 at Dodger Stadium gave him much applause. "I knew I had good stuff," he said. "It was just a matter of getting through that inning." Billingsley finished with 10 strikeouts, one shy of his season high. He gave up two hits, both in the first inning, when the first four batters reached base. "Bills won the game for us today," said third baseman Aaron Miles, who drove in the Dodgers' first two runs. Billingsley improved to 4-0 with a 2.28 earned-run average at home against Washington. And the win helped the Dodgers end at four a streak of consecutive losses in series rubber games, as they took two of three from Washington to earn their first series win of the second half. "Right now, we're struggling for air and it feels pretty much like we've got to win every day and to get a series is a part of that," Manager Don Mattingly said.