There was no unfortunate alibi for Thursday night's 4-1 loss to the Mets that put the Dodgers one defeat from being swept in the best-of-five National League Division Series.
They couldn't blame it on any missing middle relievers, or even on rookie Hong-Chih Kuo, who took his one Major League victory to the mound and kept his club close against a likely 300-game winner, trailing Tom Glavine by a run when he left.
But the Dodgers' defense was shaky, and the offense was sluggish until Wilson Betemit's one-out homer in the eighth inning. For the entire night, third-base coach Rich Donnelly had only two runners visit him. The night before, they were coming at him two at a time, but that didn't turn out too well, either.
"We messed up the last two nights against a good team, and they took advantage of it," said manager Grady Little. "We're in a tight spot."
It doesn't promise to get much easier when the series shifts to Los Angeles for Game 3 Saturday. The Dodgers will have their own former Braves Cy Young winner, Greg Maddux, on the mound, but they might not have Nomar Garciaparra in the lineup.
It was just a matter of time before the battered first baseman aggravated one of his many injuries, and the time was the fourth inning, when he felt his strained left quad muscle go while legging out an infield single off the glove of third baseman David Wright. Garciaparra was removed from the game after grounding out in the sixth.
"Once it hit off his glove and I saw it go toward the shortstop, I pushed it a little more there," said Garciaparra. "I was feeling pretty good until then. I felt it about halfway down the line."
Little said he would probably start rookie James Loney at first base Saturday if Garciaparra can't play. Loney filled in for Garciaparra in Colorado and drove in nine runs in one game.
"That will be a must-win game, and we'll see how good we are," said Jeff Kent, who had two of the Dodgers' five hits after having two hits in Game 1. "One thing we have been this year is resilient. We've had losing streaks and we've put together winning streaks, and we've got to have a winning streak to pull this one out."
Glavine scattered four hits and two walks over six innings, but the Dodgers never had a leadoff hitter on base. Rafael Furcal went 0-for-3 with a walk, and Kenny Lofton had his second 0-for-4 of the series, no surprise considering his 0-for-11 lifetime numbers against Glavine coming into the game. Furcal and Lofton are a combined 1-for-15 in the series. J.D. Drew, Russell Martin and Marlon Anderson went a combined 0-for-11 Thursday.
"Glavine's a tough pitcher to face when you have to force your game a little bit," said Kent. "We wanted to win a game here in New York. It wasn't going to break us if we didn't, but there was some frustration on our side, and he's the wrong guy for us to face in that situation. He throws a lot of changeups, and was keeping his fastball on the outside part of the plate just off the corners, where we forced ourselves a little bit. He did his job today, and we're pulling our hair out. We just have to go home and get back into this."
Now the Dodgers' job is to just win. Of 22 previous teams to lose the first two games of the Division Series in its current format, only four have rallied to win. Brett Tomko said the Dodgers came into this series with a seven-game win streak, so a three-game streak is well within their capabilities.
Perhaps so, but in this game, the Dodgers had trouble with the fundamentals, like the bunt defense. After hitting two home runs in Game 1, the Mets out-littled the Little-ball team. They scored in three innings, each with the assist of a bunt that the Dodgers didn't seem to know what to do with.
Endy Chavez was first with a drag bunt in the third inning that caught both Kuo and Garciaparra going for the ball, so nobody was covering first base had Kuo fielded it, which he didn't. With Glavine trying to bunt, Kuo wild-pitched Chavez to second. He then moved to third on Glavine's tapper and scored on Jose Reyes' grounder, when Furcal bobbled the bouncer with the intent to throw home.
The Mets had runners on first and second with no outs in the fifth and sixth innings and, with the help of bunts, scored three runs.
In the fifth, Glavine bunted to third baseman Julio Lugo to move Chavez and former Dodger Jose Valentin to second and third, with the Dodgers' defense making no attempt to snuff out Valentin at third base. After Kuo intentionally walked Reyes to load the bases, former Dodger Paul Lo Duca greeted Tomko with a sacrifice fly.
|"One thing we have been this year is resilient. We've had losing streaks and we've put together winning streaks, and we've got to have a winning streak to pull this one out."|
|-- Jeff Kent|
Betemit took a few steps toward the bunt, then retreated to third base. When Tomko noticed that Betemit had backed off, he went after the ball, planted near the third-base line and threw to first, where Lugo was covering. The ball seemed to cut away from Lugo, who didn't seem to get his footwork in order in time. He got his glove on the ball but dropped it, with the official scorer giving the error to Tomko.
"I thought Tomko took one step in the wrong direction, and I'll have to look and see about Betemit, who should charge if the bunt is really hard," said Little. "We botched up the play. It was a decent bunt, but even with a late break, we still had him with a good throw."
While the throw wasn't perfect, Little said he thought it was close enough for Lugo to catch.
Mark Hendrickson came into the bases-loaded situation looking to minimize the damage. He got Chavez on a comebacker for the first out at the plate. He then induced a medium-speed bouncer from pinch-hitter Julio Franco to Furcal, who waited for the ball instead of charging, then fed Lugo underhanded at second. Lugo's relay to first wasn't quick enough to beat the 48-year-old Franco, allowing Floyd to score and prolonging the inning so Reyes could single home Valentin.
Can the Dodgers summon one more series of miracles to extend the season another week?
"You have to think that way," said Kent. "Right now, as we're taking a shower, that's all you can ride on. To stay confident in this game, you have to believe and have faith. That's what allows you to be emotionally stable.
"Right now we're hurting, but we have the capacity to win games. We've done it in the past and can do it again. We're going to have to put together a winning streak if we're going to get out of this Division Series."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.