Maddux fell five innings and four runs short of Lima's shutout. He wasn't hit hard, just often, which was pretty much the way the Mets approached the entire game, compounding the Dodgers' frustrations with blooper after blooper that defeated pitching strategy and defensive alignments.
The Dodgers erased a 4-0 deficit created by Maddux with a Jeff Kent two-run homer and three RBIs from rookie James Loney (who was filling in for injured first baseman Nomar Garciaparra), only for their relievers to allow more runs than Maddux.
Kent had four hits in the game and a club NLDS-record eight in the series. Loney and fellow rookie Russell Martin had three hits each. But at the top of the order, Rafael Furcal and Kenny Lofton went 2-for-9 in the game and 3-for-24 in the series, scoring one run total.
And the bullpen that overcame the loss of premier closer Eric Gagne for virtually the entire season couldn't overcome the loss of situational reliever Joe Beimel for even three games. Beimel most likely would have been pitching in the decisive sixth inning instead of rookie Jonathan Broxton -- who took the loss -- if not for the injury the southpaw sustained in a New York bar.
Like Maddux, Broxton made good pitches the Mets turned into ugly hits. But they don't give style points in this sport, they just count runs. The Mets broke three bats against Broxton in the sixth inning and scored a run each time. Chad Billingsley and Mark Hendrickson pitched scoreless innings and Takashi Saito struck out three Mets in 1 2/3 innings, but Brett Tomko was charged with two runs (one earned).
"We got the lead and went with the plan of Broxton and Saito for two innings each, but they went to the bloop hits and we couldn't stop the bleeding," said manager Grady Little. "Lo Duca hit a ball just over the first baseman [on a pitch almost in the dirt], but it was enough to drive in a run. Those are killing blows, and you can't do anything about it when they find holes like that."
Other than a couple of futile rallies, the Dodgers did little right the entire series, from Beimel's self-destructive incident to the slapstick Game 1 baserunning fiasco, from the Game 2 offensive disappearance to the season-ending defeat.
"We finished the [regular] season with seven [consecutive] wins and felt good coming into the series," said Martin. "Maybe they made better adjustments than we did."
The Dodgers lost Beimel and Garciaparra (who bounced back to the box with the bases loaded as a pinch-hitter to end the fifth inning), but the Mets overcame the loss of Pedro Martinez and Game 1 scheduled starter Orlando Hernandez, then added Cliff Floyd to the list during Game 3 with an Achilles injury.
"If they're depleted," said Little, "I don't want to see them at full strength. That lineup doesn't make easy outs, even when they don't hit the ball good."
Although they finished tied for the division lead with 87 wins, the Dodgers kept to their pattern of struggling against good teams (they went 8-29 against playoff teams this year). The team batting averages were almost identical (.294 for the Mets, .291 for the Dodgers), but Los Angeles' team ERA was more than two runs higher than New York's (5.76 to 3.67).
"A lot of people look at us and see the season is over with a tough loss in the playoffs like we did, but a lot of us look at this as the beginning of something good."
-- Dodgers manager Grady Little
"Everyone takes it to heart when you get swept like this, but at the end of the day, it's pretty clear," said Derek Lowe. "When you get swept, they're the better team, and there's no getting around that or disputing the fact."
General manager Ned Colletti will meet with the staff Sunday morning as the offseason -- and anticipated retooling -- begins.
"A lot of people look at us and see the season is over with a tough loss in the playoffs like we did, but a lot of us look at this as the beginning of something good," said Little, whose club showed a 17-game improvement in his first season at the helm after last year's 71-91 mark under Jim Tracy.
Among prioritized issues will be dealing with seven upcoming free agents, most notably Gagne, Garciaparra, Maddux and Lofton. Colletti also needs to get creative to keep emergency closer Saito from returning to Japan. Saito again was non-committal whether he would return, but gave no reason to believe he wouldn't come back to the Dodgers if a deal could be reached.
Gagne, Garciaparra and Lofton said they want to return, but injuries cloud the future of the first two. Garciaparra's situation is further complicated by the emergence of Loney, who looked like a veteran in October after struggling in early-season callups.
"The guy's ready to play," Little said of Loney. "Somebody better get ready to get out of the way."
Maddux sounded like a return is in his plans.
"Absolutely," he said. "I loved playing here, living here, the atmosphere. There's nothing I don't like about this place. It's just tough to take, to finish this way."
Maddux was finished after four innings. He allowed a walk and five consecutive two-out hits for three runs in the first, but most fell in front of outfielders.
"I thought I made pretty good pitches that I'd expect to get outs with, and a couple bad ones, but I couldn't get the third out," he said. "It kind of snowballed from there. It just didn't work for us. That's kind of how it goes sometimes."