Mets throwing Dodgers different looks
Injuries and subsequent shuffles also work in New York's favor
NEW YORK -- In 18 short innings, the prognosis for this National League Division Series has changed. The baseball doctors were off, and the teams have sought a second opinion.Coming in, there was concern for the Mets' brilliant summer falling casualty to a painful October. Two games into the postseason, some of the Mets may be aching. But the Los Angeles Dodgers are aching for a win. Pedro Martinez's right shoulder still bears the fresh scar of an operation on Thursday morning. Orlando Hernandez's right foot is still in a boot. Cliff Floyd's left Achilles tendon is still sore -- more than ever, actually, after an aggravation Thursday night. But the Mets, and their game, are a picture of health compared to the Dodgers -- who turn out to have been held together with adhesive tape, and mirrors. The tape is all around Nomar Garciaparra, whose departure midway through Game 2 had an unsettling trickle-down defensive effect on the Dodgers. And the mirrors? Well, that and smoke may explain the Dodgers' National League-best 41-19 record the last two months with a bullpen of schizophrenics. While the Mets have shortened two games with stellar relief, the Dodgers have had former starters (Brad Penny) relieving and a former reliever (Hong-Chih Kuo) starting. So it didn't take much for the Mets to be able to fly westward one notch short of the next step toward their destiny. Well, Tom Glavine did pitch masterfully for six innings at Shea Stadium. But for Glavine, who has lived 40 years and 290 wins and numerous postseason lifetimes, this was almost a bore. "I'm like running around with my head cut off," said Floyd, "and I see this guy before the game all relaxed. He was at peace." Otherwise, the Mets needed to score three runs without a ball leaving the infield for a 4-1 victory and the traditional 2-0 series lead -- a tradition ignored only by the Tigers and Yankees. This Division Series will resume Saturday in Los Angeles. The Mets will soon be coming back to New York. Whether they'll be bringing the Dodgers with them remains to be seen. "This will be one of the first times in any of our lives we'll be looking forward to flying back here so shortly," said Los Angeles manager Grady Little, apparently not fond of the big city.
For two days, the Mets have emptied their arsenal against the Dodgers. That includes big weapons, as well as the baseball version of water torture.A night after pulling out the big home runs and big doubles, the Mets wore down the Dodgers with sharp fielding. And the speed of Endy Chavez and Julio Franco, who between them average 38 years. "We can win a lot of different ways," said Jose Reyes, whose sixth-inning single to center drove in the Mets' final run. "It doesn't always have to be with power." "We're that type of club -- great power, but also great speed," Floyd said. "We understand that we still have to execute. When we play that way, we're hard to beat. And we did that tonight." Even a little small ball was too much for the Dodgers. Because even a lot of tape is too little for Garciaparra. The valiant warhorse's picture is used by now as an illustration in medical journals to pinpoint various injuries. When the simple act of hustling up the line to beat out an infield single strained Garciaparra's quad injury to the quitting point, the Dodgers sagged. Jeff Kent moved from second to replace Garciaparra at first, necessitating Julio Lugo to switch from third to second and for Wilson Betemit to enter the game at third. This transpired in the bottom of the sixth of a 2-0 game, and the Mets immediately, if inadvertently, benefited.
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Following singles by David Wright and Floyd, Jose Valentin laid down a bunt at about a 45-degree angle between third base and the mound. Instincts abandoned Betemit, who laid back for a possible force at third that really wasn't possible. Reliever Brett Tomko was slow enough off the mound to hurry an errant throw to first.One out later, Franco pinch-hit and sent a roller to short. Maybe Rafael Furcal allowed the ball one hop too many. More than likely, Lugo's pivot was a beat slow. Either way, Franco's 48-year-old legs beat the relay to first. This became a two-run play when Reyes followed with his single. "We misplayed a couple of balls and a good team took advantage," Little said. "After you hit the ball, you have to become a runner," Franco said. "That kept the inning alive, and we got two runs out of that play. When we play like that, we can compete with anybody." Or the way the Mets manufactured their first run. Chavez bunted for a single to lead off the third, went to second on a wild pitch -- after Glavine was twice unable to bunt him over -- took third as Glavine hit a grounder the other way and scored on Reyes' slow groundout. "That's part of my game -- speed. If I put the ball in play, it makes it tough on them," Chavez said. Little must have had a premonition, because one pitch into the game, he appealed to home-plate umpire Ted Barrett that his lineup card had Shawn Green, rather than Chavez, in right field. Nice try, Grady. Barrett convinced him that the wrong lineup had wound up in his hands. Chavez stayed. The Dodgers became frayed. And they were left wondering if, in a season made by comebacks, they had one more notable rally left in them. "We're in a tight spot, you know?" Little said. "That pretty much sums it up. We've been there before." But there is a difference between losing 13 of 14 coming out of the All-Star break and losing two of two in October. In July, you can look forward to the rest of summer. Now, time is not on your side, and winter threatens.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.