Mets fall to pesky Penny, Dodgers

Mets fall to pesky Penny, Dodgers

LOS ANGELES -- "The ball finds you." It is a foreboding four-word axiom in the game. The phrase is the baseball equivalent of the bumper sticker philosophy that says, "It happens." The ball finds you, not always at the least opportune moment. But as Buddy Harrelson once noted, "It finds you when you don't need to be found."

So it was Saturday afternoon in Chavez Ravine, where the Mets were trying overcome a modest disadvantage. They were confident their resilience and their offense would find a way to offset the Dodgers' 6-4 lead. And perhaps, they were right. But before they could fully address 6-4, the score was 8-4 because the ball had found someone who didn't need to be found. It happens.

It found Ruben Gotay in the sixth inning after the Dodgers had loaded the bases with one out, and Russell Martin had hit a ground ball to third base. David Wright played the ball cleanly and, if he had looked at it, he would have seen "double play" inscribed next to Bud Selig's signature.

Wright properly delivered the ball to Gotay at second base as fleet Juan Pierre barreled in. Martin runs well for a catcher, but he was an out in the making as Gotay began to transfer the ball from his glove to his bare hand. The Mets were a pivot and 90 feet away from escaping, the two-run deficit intact.

But they lost to the Dodgers, 8-6, on Saturday because the escape didn't happen. Gotay's relay was well wide of its target. As it bounced in foul territory, two runs scored, negating in advance the two-run home run Carlos Beltran would hit in the eighth and reminding the veterans in the Mets' dugout that "the ball finds you."

No one held Gotay responsible for the loss. Jorge Sosa could've pitched more effectively and not squandered the 4-0 lead the Mets had bestowed upon him. And somebody could have driven in a few more runs. But it happened that Gotay's errant throw led directly to two runs in a game the Mets lost by two. It looked like his fault.

"It happens," Jose Valentin said, pointing no finger.

It happened, some of the players acknowledged, because Saturday was Gotay's first day with increased responsibility. Because Valentin's broken right leg is in a brace and probably will be for more than a month, Gotay is likely to play more second base than he would have with Valentin available. He might become the primary second baseman.

And baseball fate -- the unseen hand that directs tweeners, causes bad hops and generally messes with the game -- messed with Gotay only because it seemingly was his first day in charge of second base.

"It happens all the time," Tom Glavine said. "We've all seen it."

The consensus contention in the clubhouse was that Gotay would have turned the double play if Valentin were healthy or if some other second-base understudy were likely to be Valentin's replacement. But inevitability interfered.

"It happened that way," Marlon Anderson said, "because the ball does find you."

Knocked down by Pierre on the play, Gotay was stand up about his first conspicuous misplay in his 46 games with the Mets.

"I should have made a better throw," he said. "No excuse. Then we would have tied it up."

And Willie Randolph, conceding little to the unseen hand, said, "You have get the double plays when they're there."

But others were familiar with the scripting. Howard Johnson's memory clicked on a May 1991 game, same site, in which Keith Miller had been double-switched in to play second base in the eighth inning when a double play was in order. The ensuing ground ball -- it had double-play potential comparable to the grounder Martin hit to Wright -- was to Miller. He botched it, the inning fell apart, the Mets lost because of it.

"I remember because I had to console Millsie," HoJo said.

"You notice it more because Jose broke his leg. ... It's tough. We all go through it. It's part of the game."

Shawn Green went a step further.

"It's part of life," he said. "It tells you there's something out there."

Goodness knows there were other parts of this one that turned against the Mets. Before Scott Schoeneweis hit Pierre with a pitch and loaded the bases in the sixth, Rafael Furcal beat out a bunt that Carlos Delgado handled. The Mets first baseman might have flipped the ball to Schoeneweis, who had sprinted off the mound and was in position. He didn't, and his attempted tag never reached Furcal.

"It would have been a bang-bang play," Schoeneweis said.

Said Delgado: "I didn't think throwing to him was an option."

Mostly, this one turned on Sosa's imprecise pitches. Early prosperity, the result of a two-run home run by Wright in the third inning and RBIs by Ramon Castro and Lastings Milledge in the second, did nothing for the Mets starter. He allowed a run in the third when winning pitcher Brad Penny contributed a leadoff double, and he was battered in the fourth when he surrendered six hits, one a three-run home run by Matt Kemp, and five runs in a seven-batter sequence.

Sosa (7-5) now has one victory, four losses and a 6.90 ERA in his six most recent starts, the Mets have four losses in six games in Los Angeles and their lead over the second-place Braves in the National League East is reduced to three games, pending the outcome of Atlanta's game Saturday night.

Penny became the second National League pitcher with 12 victories, beating the Mets for the second time in five weeks, but merely the fourth time in 17 career starts against them. He is 12-1 against all teams this season, and 4-10 against the Mets lifetime. After Wright's 18th home run, one of merely four Penny has allowed in 130 innings, the righty gave up three more baserunners before he was replaced by Joe Beimel with two runners on and one out in the seventh. Paul Lo Duca, in his first pinch-hitting appearance of the season, then grounded into a double play.

The resolve and resilience the Mets had demonstrated in winning six of nine games since the All-Star break made only one cameo appearance -- Beltran's 19th home run, his third in three games here, against Beimel with one out in the eighth. The Dodgers summoned large Jonathan Broxton, who struck out Wright and Delgado and pitched a clean ninth. Resolve and resilience were no match for that kind of relief.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.