Punchless Mets drop finale to Dodgers

Mets drop finale to Dodgers

LOS ANGELES -- By the fifth inning of Wednesday's game, the tape was already rolling on Daniel Murphy's highlight film. The Mets' newest first baseman had scooped up four grounders, taking two of them to the bag, flipping the others to his pitcher.

When Rafael Furcal scorched a line drive in his direction that inning, Murphy coolly snagged it and touched first base, turning an unassisted double play. He was "gold," just as Mets third-base coach Razor Shines had predicted.

But later that night, Murphy characterized his performance as "incomplete."

He was, after all, 0-for-4 on the day, with two strikeouts and a double play of his own. Three of his four at-bats came with runners on scoring position, all of them with men on base. And so Murphy, by night's end, had become a significant reason why the Mets lost a 2-1 game to the Dodgers.

"It's expected," third baseman David Wright said. "You're going to struggle. You're not going to come up and hit the ground running and not hit any bumps in the road. This is where you find out how to make adjustments and continue your development when you are struggling. That's 90 percent of hitting, and 90 percent of playing this game is dealing with failure."

Indeed, it was 100 percent of this series. The Mets were swept in three games at Dodger Stadium after winning 11 of their previous 13 games -- though to be fair, this is not the same team that won 11 of 13. The Mets, like Murphy, are feeling incomplete.

Shortstop Jose Reyes left Wednesday's game after aggravating a right calf injury and may be headed to the disabled list. His backup, Alex Cora, is already there, his thumb in a splint for the next 10 days. First baseman Carlos Delgado is facing a 10-week recovery from hip surgery. And outfielder Gary Sheffield, feeling under the weather, wasn't available to pinch-hit in the late stages of Wednesday's game.

The Mets could have used him. With the tying run on second base and two outs in the ninth inning, Reyes' spot in the batting order -- now occupied by Ramon Martinez -- came up.

Quickly in an 0-2 hole against Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton, Martinez grounded out to end the game.

That was just one of nine runners the Mets left on base Wednesday, finishing 0-for-10 with men in scoring position. And none of those situations was bigger than the one that surfaced in the eighth inning, when Murphy stepped to the plate with runners on second and third and one out. Given Manuel's endorsement -- the manager easily could have pinch-hit Fernando Tatis against the left-handed Brent Leach -- Murphy grounded out to a drawn-in infield.

"I should have driven Luis [Castillo] in right there," Murphy said. "There was no excuse. I got the at-bat, and I've got to drive him in. J.J. should have been out there in a hold situation."

Instead, J.J. Putz entered a tie game. Feeling neck stiffness -- which he called "a non-issue" -- earlier in the day, Putz allowed the winning run to score on two hits and a walk. The game-winner came off the bat of Russell Martin, who grounded a single through the left side of the infield.

"We're scuffling, there's no doubt about it," Putz said. "We've got a lot of guys that are banged up that are in the lineup. Hopefully, the tides will turn, we'll heal up pretty quick and get back on a roll."

What those final few innings did was undermine a flawless defensive effort from Murphy, a natural third baseman who this winter was labeled the team's left fielder of the future. Proven to be incapable there, Murphy instead made his career debut at first base.

His prowess as a hitter seemed to justify the Mets' insistence on keeping him in the lineup. But after striking out twice, grounding into a double play and killing Wednesday's eighth-inning rally, Murphy now has just one hit in his past 25 at-bats.

"I do think that he's going to hit," Manuel said. "That's one thing that I feel confident in."

But on this night, he did not. He merely fielded, and did so with aplomb.

"He was outstanding," Wright said. "I thought he was excellent. He moved around the base well, and he looked like a natural over there. Forget about offense."

The Mets seem to have done precisely that. They have not hit a home run in 69 consecutive innings, a span of seven-plus games. Unable to hit Dodgers spot starter Jeff Weaver on Wednesday, they wasted a fine effort from Livan Hernandez, who pitched seven innings of one-run ball. And perhaps it was Hernandez who best summed up the state of this team, heading into a daunting three-game series in Boston.

Said Hernandez: "We've got to find a way to score some runs."

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