"The Yankees are going to be out to embarrass us more," said closer Billy Wagner, who gave up only the ninth home run of his career to a left-hander when James Loney homered in the eighth inning. "Right now, every team we play is embarrassing us."
That was pretty much the sentiment for the Mets (36-28), who lost their fifth game in a row and fell to 2-10 this month. On Friday, they'll meet the Yankees (32-31), who extended their winning streak to eight games on Wednesday.
"I think this is testing our resiliency," third baseman David Wright said. "It's testing how much heart and character this team has. We need to turn it around and turn it around fast, because we've got four quality teams coming up. This is an important stretch for us. We have to finish up strong before the All-Star break."
The Mets didn't get the stopper performance they were looking for from starter Jorge Sosa (6-2).
Sosa was two pitchers on Wednesday night. His first incarnation, on display for the first four innings, looked like the one that had three victories in three consecutive starts entering this outing. His second, however, resembled a pitcher out of sync searching for strikes.
Sosa retired 12 of the first 14 hitters he faced. He protected the 1-0 lead provided by Wright's RBI single in the first inning, which extended Wright's hitting streak to 15 games and gave the Mets a first-inning lead for the third consecutive game in the series.
But Sosa came undone in the fifth inning. Ahead in the count to Wilson Betemit, Sosa tried to put Betemit away with a slider. He hung it, and Betemit torched the pitch for his seventh home run of the season to tie the score.
"I was trying to throw a backdoor slider, but the ball was in the middle of the plate," Sosa said. "I played with Betemit before. I knew he was a bad breaking-ball hitter, but that ball was right in the middle of the plate."
The next hitter, Matt Kemp, hit a slow chopper to the right side of the infield. Kemp, hustling down the line, beat Sosa to the bag ahead of the toss from Carlos Delgado. Sosa struck out Tony Abreu, and pitcher Brad Penny put down a sacrifice bunt, but Rafael Furcal delivered the first of his two triples to score Kemp and give the Dodgers a 2-1 lead. Juan Pierre followed with a single to score Furcal.
Things deteriorated further for the Mets in the sixth inning. Nomar Garciaparra led off with a single. Sosa battled back to get two outs, but Betemit and Kemp followed with RBI singles to chase him. Kemp's hit went off the glove of shortstop Jose Reyes. In the seventh, Reyes dropped a routine throw at second base that allowed Furcal to score following his second triple.
By the eighth inning, Wagner was in the game. The Mets were thrilled to close the series, but were dismayed that they could not find a way to snap their slump. The sight of Loney, a recent Triple-A call-up whose Major League power has been questioned, taking Wagner out to right field, perfectly summed up the series.
"We've caused a lot of our own problems, but right now the Dodgers are very good," Wagner said. "They played outstanding baseball, and we made them look better with our sloppy play."
Penny didn't make it any easier on them. The right-hander worked comfortably in the 91-94-mph range with his fastball and had an exceptional curveball. He pitched seven innings and scattered seven hits, allowing only the first-inning run, walking none and striking out seven. He needed only 91 pitches (60 strikes) to work those seven innings and turned the Mets back on three occasions.
No opportunity was more frustrating for the Mets than in the seventh inning, when, with two out, Paul Lo Duca singled and Jose Valentin hit his second double of the game. But Penny got Ricky Ledee to bounce out to second base to end the inning.
Penny and Shawn Green exchanged words in the third inning. Penny accused Green of signaling pitch location while he was on second base after a first-inning double.
"I was a little mad at the time, because he was giving the location of pitches," Penny said. "When you do that, you get a reputation."
Green disagreed with Penny's suggestion.
"He said I was giving location of pitches from second base, which wasn't true," Green said. "[That's] a little bit of paranoia on their side. If you think someone is stealing signs, you change the signs, it's that simple."