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Mets fall to Dodgers, drop third straight

Mets suffer third straight loss

LOS ANGELES -- AT&T Park in San Francisco and Dodger Stadium in downtown Los Angeles have earned reputations as two of the foremost pitcher's parks in the National League -- the former for its endless power alleys, the latter for an outfield fence that remains mockingly deep until its outer edges. Citi Field in Flushing plays as big as either of them.

They are cavernous, these parks, and yet they are not impenetrable. Which makes the trick the Mets have pulled off over the past seven days -- 60 consecutive innings without a home run -- all the more astonishing. This is no feeble offensive team. These are the Mets, packing muscle even without the injured Carlos Delgado in their lineup.

But their sudden power outage was again on stark display Tuesday night -- and had been long before the final inning of a 5-3 loss to the Dodgers.

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"Home runs just happen," said right fielder Ryan Church, who has hit merely one all year. "They'll come -- that's the thing. We don't force it. They'll come."

Yet the Mets were hardly looking forward on this night, one in which they dropped a third straight game after winning 11 of their previous 13. Hardly befuddled by Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley, the Mets simply did not tag Billingsley when they had the chance. And their own starter, John Maine, rued his one looming mistake.

That was a three-run homer to Casey Blake -- the difference in the game. And it sustained a troubling trend for Maine, who has been done in often this season by one bad inning.

"It's always one pitch," Maine said. "I hung it, and it was a bad pitch. The worst-case scenario is a home run, and that's what happened."

And the Mets, arguably the hottest team in baseball just three days ago, have been utterly incapable of absorbing such blunders in recent days. "It's tough to make a mistake at this point," was how manager Jerry Manuel characterized it, and he seemed to have a point. With Delgado out, Carlos Beltran fighting a sore throat, Jose Reyes far from 100 percent and Daniel Murphy engulfed in a 1-for-21 funk, the Mets are currently scattered in pieces.

Their sixth, seventh and eighth hitters Tuesday were Ramon Martinez, Jeremy Reed and Omir Santos, respectively -- hardly the lineup they envisioned on Opening Day. And they absorbed the news earlier Tuesday that they will be without Delgado -- their primary home run hitter -- at least until late July.

Most of the Mets swear it's not troubling that they haven't hit a home run since Gary Sheffield yanked out one of Citi Field in the eighth inning last Wednesday. Indeed, the Mets have been actively trying to improve their contact hitting all season, working on spitting pitches to the opposite field before every game. To that end, they have succeeded -- their .289 batting average and .370 on-base percentage lead the Major Leagues.

"I would think that we would have to continue to be that type of club, and let the home runs come when they can," Manuel said, ignoring the fact that David Wright hasn't hit a homer since May 7, Beltran since May 9. "You can't expect people that are not accustomed to hitting home runs to ask them to hit home runs. But it would be nice to have one here or there."

Their offense -- and particularly their power hitting -- has become imperative because their pitching has been pedestrian, their defense exposed. Starting players such as Murphy and Reed out of position has finally caught up to the Mets, who committed five errors in Monday's game and another in the first inning Tuesday.

Murphy was the latest culprit, dropping a line drive right at him -- "I should have made the play," he said after it led to an unearned run -- after getting picked off first base in the top of the inning.

If they can't defend, they have to hit. And so after the game, Manuel discussed the possibility of regularly subbing Fernando Tatis at second base instead of Martinez, who finished 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and a double play. Certainly Martinez -- a middle infielder by trade -- would be more adequate defensively than Tatis, who has played two games there in his career and looked awkward playing shortstop last week in relief of Reyes.

But the Mets have sacrificed so much defense already this season that they're almost beholden to sacrifice a little more.

"As much as we've struggled defensively, we're going to have to make some decisions one way or the other as to what type of team we are," Manuel said. "Are we going to start kicking it around and hit it, or are we going to hit it and try to catch it?"

Or are they going to hit it over the wall? If nothing else, that would be a help.

"With Delgado out, it's the whole power factor," Maine said. "You miss a big bat like that."

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

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