They fell behind again when Brad Penny allowed a pair of runs in relief. However, they fought to the finish, scoring a run in the ninth off Mets closer Billy Wagner, and they had the tying run on second base when Mr. Clutch, Nomar Garciaparra, couldn't duplicate his game-tying hit of the seventh inning. He struck out as a Wagner slider wrapped around his ankles to end the game.
"There's no need to panic. We lost the first game in San Francisco," said Penny, speaking of the NLDS Game 1 speed bump the Florida Marlins hit en route to a victory in the 2003 World Series.
Of course, Penny couldn't recall the Marlins -- or anyone else -- getting two runners nailed at the plate on the same play. But these are the Dodgers, and it happened like this:
Jeff Kent was on second base and J.D. Drew was on first with no outs in the top of the second inning, and Russell Martin sliced a ball toward the right-field corner off Mets rookie starter John Maine.
Kent couldn't tell if Shawn Green would make the catch, so he held up halfway between second and third, and even seemed to be leaning back toward second base, which didn't help matters, as he would have had plenty of time to retreat had Green caught the ball. Meanwhile, Drew read the ball perfectly and took off on the crack of the bat. By the time the ball caromed off the fence and into Green's glove, Drew was on Kent's heels.
Third-base coach Rich Donnelly, who usually likes to see Dodgers heading for third base, wasn't too happy to see two of them at once. His decision was to send Kent, figuring the first runner would be out at the plate, but also figuring that Drew would stop at third and the Dodgers would have runners at second and third with one out.
Donnelly was half right. Kent was out at the plate easily. But Drew didn't stop.
"I was watching the play [at the plate] all the way," said Donnelly. "In fact, when J.D. ran by me, I was shocked."
Drew saw the green light Donnelly gave Kent and believed it was for him, figuring the Mets were having relay problems and he would score the second run of the play. Drew wasn't even half right. He said he was pretty surprised to see a play on Kent in front of him, causing him to hesitate momentarily halfway between third and home.
"I thought the play was going to be on me at the plate," said Drew. "I had no idea the play was going to be on Jeff."
Then, figuring catcher Paul Lo Duca couldn't tag both at the same time, Drew re-accelerated, but the hesitation gave Lo Duca enough time to regroup from one tag and make another.
"I don't know if there's a place to put blame here," said Kent.
Actually, there was blame to be shared in all quarters. Martin led the Dodgers in hitting into double plays this year, but never one like this. For those scoring at home, the play went from former Dodger Green to former Dodger Jose Valentin to former Dodger Lo Duca.
That Marlon Anderson followed this fiasco with a double that scored Martin couldn't diminish what might have been.
"We scored one, and it could have been a five-run inning," said Donnelly.
During his postgame explanation, Kent pointed out that the game was not entirely lost on the second-inning baserunning foul-up, and that the Dodgers actually led when the inning was over. Starter Derek Lowe, however, allowed fourth-inning home runs to Delgado (470 feet) and Cliff Floyd, then a two-run double by David Wright on a 1-2 pitch in the sixth.
The Dodgers battled back to tie it with three in the seventh inning off another former Dodger, Guillermo Mota, on Rafael Furcal's RBI single and a two-out double by Garciaparra.
Enter the Dodgers' bullpen, the one that lost Beimel to a hotel bathroom accident. Manager Grady Little got big outs from Beimel's replacement, Mark Hendrickson, in the sixth inning, then batted for him in the tying rally. He could have called on Brett Tomko for the seventh inning, but instead had starter Penny primed for situations just like this, even though Penny entered 3-10 with a 6.16 ERA lifetime against the Mets.
Penny came in firing pitches of speeds up to 99 mph, but not enough of them were strikes. He walked two of the first three batters he faced, including leadoff hitter Jose Reyes, who stole second and scored on the fourth hit of the game by Carlos Delgado.
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"The important thing is to keep Reyes off base," said Penny, "and the first thing I did was walk him."
Delgado's hit, however, defeated a defensive shift strategy daring him to go the other way, which he did very well, against Lowe as well as Penny.
"I don't like shifts. It's a phony defense," said Lowe. "Hopefully, we won't be shifting anymore, and get back to playing defense regularly."
"I thought I made a good pitch, down and away, but it was a hitter's count," he said. "With runners on base, my experience facing him is that he's trying to go the other way, and he did."
Wright followed by fisting a bloop double just past first base for another run.
"Just tough luck right there," said Penny, who left his last start after one inning with a stiff back and will start Game 4, if there is one. "I felt great. My arm felt as good, if not better, than it has in a long time."
Wilson Betemit and pinch-hitter Ramon Martinez doubled off Wagner, which indicated that the Mets' closer is vulnerable, but the team that had two runners erased at the plate fell one run short.
"Those things, when they happen," said Little of the baserunning, "can come back to haunt you, and they certainly did tonight."
Coincidentally, Penny took the loss and Mota got the win. Mota and Lo Duca were sent to the Marlins, along with Juan Encarnacion, for Penny and Hee-Seop Choi in a notable 2004 trade.