The entire organization figured that it was en route to a 5-0 win when manager Grady Little brought in struggling reliever Lance Carter in the ninth to get some work and close out the game.
"We had a great game through eight innings," said Little.
Carter allowed a single to Mike Cameron into the hole at shortstop, then a sharp single to right field by Brian Giles, bringing up Mike Piazza.
Although the lead was still five, Little rang the bullpen phone for Danys Baez, who had saved games the previous two nights. Baez was able to warm up only as long as it took Carter to walk Piazza and load the bases.
After a hurried warmup, on came Baez, Gagne's understudy. He faced five batters, one run scoring during each at-bat -- a single by Mark Bellhorn (who would later win the game), walks to Khalil Greene and Eric Young and sacrifice flies by Josh Barfield and Geoff Blum.
"The roof caved in on Carter and Baez both," said Little. "Carter was coming off a great game in Houston [tossing two scoreless innings], and we thought the wheels were back on track, but they fell off again. We tried to go without using Baez, but it didn't turn out how we wanted. He wasn't able to get in any rhythm."
Carter's ERA soared to 7.45. He has appeared in eight games and been scored upon in five, so his ineffectiveness on Sunday was not a complete surprise.
Baez's problems were an entirely different story. He's been the main man with the loss of Gagne and Brazoban, but he's strictly a power pitcher, and there are only so many bullets in the chamber.
Baez had saved the previous two games and, while his velocity on Sunday was consistently at 94 mph, he was all over the place. The fact that he had only one batter to warm up didn't help. As it was, he needed 25 pitches and didn't even finish the inning. He threw 10 pitches on Saturday night and only four Friday night.
"I lost my mechanics," said Baez. "I was overthrowing the fastball and doing too much with the splitter and was behind every hitter. That was the biggest problem."
Takashi Saito, the setup man, also pitched on Friday and Saturday nights. At 36, he's physically not able to withstand the demands of pitching three consecutive days, so he was unavailable. And, obviously, there was no confidence in bringing in Kuo.
Baez, meanwhile, conceded that he was not expecting to be used after pitching on Friday and Saturday nights, either, particularly the way this game unfolded, but he would not use the element of surprise as an excuse.
"That's part of my job," he said. "If you want to be a closer in the Major Leagues, you've got to be strong enough to close three days in a row."
The irony afterward was that the Dodgers optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas the rookie Kuo, a hard-throwing lefty with a 5.54 ERA and 15 walks in 13 innings. He will be replaced by another left-hander, Joe Beimel, who was 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA and four walks in 13 innings at Las Vegas.
"Kuo needs better command and to hold runners on, and this isn't the place to learn that," said Colletti, who added that Carter's situation is "a topic of discussion."
Overall, Little defended the work of his bullpen this season and said that there are no current plans to add a reliever and increase the number of pitchers from 11 to 12.
The game ended with Tim Hamulack taking the loss, allowing Bellhorn's sharp single inside third and down the line after issuing consecutive one-out walks to Giles and Piazza. With the win, San Diego snapped a five-game losing streak. The game marked the first time this season that the Dodgers led after the seventh or eighth inning and did not win.
All that wasted the great game Little talked about. Included were a two-run homer from Bill Mueller, two hits and two RBIs from Nomar Garciaparra and six scoreless innings and the fifth consecutive quality start from their former Boston teammate, starter Derek Lowe.
With the five-run cushion, it didn't seem monumental when Lowe left the game after turning an ankle while pitching to Dave Roberts in the sixth and taking a Cameron comebacker off the same ankle one batter later.
He yielded to Franquelis Osoria, who pitched two scoreless innings, setting the stage for Carter.
"These games happen to every team -- it's just a matter of how you come back," said Lowe. "Time will tell the effect of this game. Obviously, it's frustrating for everybody. We'd just like to get on a roll. We haven't had a win streak longer than two games and just got back to .500."