"I've never seen anything like this," Beltran said.
Starting a third baseman-turned-outfielder at first base, and subbing him out of the game in favor of a natural center fielder, the Mets watched, mouths agape, as Jeremy Reed threw a potential double-play ball well wide of home plate in the bottom of the 11th inning. Mark Loretta sprinted home with the winning run, but the entire play seemed relatively sane compared with what happened some time earlier.
The Mets had all but won the game in the top of the 11th, when Church sprinted home with the go-ahead run on Pagan's would-be triple. Even the scoreboard concurred, flashing a run for the visitors.
But in a quick moment of chaos, Loretta tagged Pagan at third base, and the umpires ruled Church out. No run. No lead. Church had missed the bag.
"That's unbelievable," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "I can't explain how, or why, or anything, but he actually missed the base."
"I thought I touched it," a bewildered Church said after the game. "But, obviously, I didn't."
Had Church been aware of his gaffe, he would have had plenty of time to retreat back to the base, tag it and head home. Instead, he trudged to the dugout, at the mercy of a successful appeal.
And still the game continued, on to the bottom of the inning, on to a relatively routine fly ball to left field by Xavier Paul, after Loretta led off with a walk. Both Beltran and Pagan -- making his first start in more than a year -- tracked the ball to shallow left-center field. Both Beltran and Pagan hollered for it. And the ball fell next to both of them, a fourth and hardly final error.
"I called the ball like six times, and Pagan stood in the middle and I couldn't see the ball," Beltran said. "That particular play right there, I have priority.
"He knows that when the center fielder calls the ball, everyone has to get out of the way."
Instead, the ball dropped, and Loretta raced to third. And after an intentional walk loaded the bases with none out, Rafael Furcal flied to short left. Then Orlando Hudson hit a sharp grounder to the right side of a drawn-in infield.
Reed -- making his third career start at first base -- snatched it, lunged forward and fired a sidearm throw so far wide of home plate that it sailed to the backstop. There was nothing more the Mets could do.
"I haven't practiced that, but I should be able to do that," Reed said of the play.
It was as if the Mets were making up for their weekend tightrope walk, executed by a cast of players who were wholly inexperienced at their positions. Carlos Delgado was out with a hip injury, and so Reed and Fernando Tatis took his place at first. Jose Reyes and his backup, Alex Cora, were both injured, forcing Ramon Martinez to fly across the country, slip into uniform and start at shortstop.
And all the injuries have forced the Mets to be creative with their outfield, sticking Pagan in left field and finding at-bats for Gary Sheffield in right. Manuel's laboratory seemed to be churning out an interesting product, until Monday evening's toxic reaction.
Five errors, and a team in disbelief.
A chunk of the misfortune fell on starter Tim Redding, who swam against the tide earlier Monday, coming off the disabled list at a time when everyone else seemed to be signing their names on the line. In his Mets debut, Redding pitched admirably, allowing two runs in six innings.
Under less improbable circumstances, that might have been enough for a win. But the Mets' inability to back Redding -- to score off Dodgers starter Randy Wolf -- was the least of their concerns. The fact that they have not hit a home run in 48 innings hardly a pressing worry.
Instead, the Mets fretted over who might play first base, shortstop, left field. A first-place team should not have too many holes, but -- at least for the moment -- the Mets are an astonishingly flawed first-place team, after descending into a tie atop the National League East.
"Those are the things that can happen when people aren't accustomed to playing their positions," Manuel said, pinning the loss mainly on Church's missed base.
"It's just strange for Church," Beltran said. "After battling the whole game and having an opportunity for us to score a run -- I don't know what happened."
He searched for other words but found none.
"I don't know what happened. I didn't ask Church what happened. It's bad."