Livan hit hard as Mets fall to Dodgers

Mets never get going in finale

NEW YORK -- The game-ending double play -- Juan Castro to Rafael Furcal to James Loney -- happened at 10:30 p.m. Rush hour began moments later. The seats of Citi Field had emptied gradually on this unremarkable baseball evening. It was the home clubhouse that emptied as if it had been flushed. At 11:15, Pedro Feliciano fiddled with items in his locker and then departed. Last one out is a ... relief pitcher. The Mets exited as if they had a coast-to-coast flight and their plane was double-parked.

Three games remain before they can take their annual July coffee break -- Friday and Saturday nights, and Sunday afternoon. Yet Thursday seemed like getaway day. Once the Dodgers achieved the 27th out of their 11-2 victory, the Mets, a team without a home run in 57 innings, were going, going ... outta here.

They neither lingered nor lounged; they left. And even while they were there, they barely lamented.

Nothing was to be gained by delaying departure. It's what teams under duress often do. What was there that warranted review or examination? A lopsided defeat, replete with ineffective pitching by their starter, flawed pitching by one member of the bullpen and minimal offense. Nothing novel about this one.

The Mets produced extra-base hits, scored five times and beat the Dodgers, 5-4, on Wednesday night. And they hoped that game constituted a return to normalcy for them -- not the winning so much as the competitive nature of their performance. They produced extra-base hits -- though no home runs, of course -- in nine innings Thursday night. But not only did they not win, they hardly were competitive in a loss that had the feel of the routine to it.

The Mets fell behind early with Livan Hernandez pitching ineffectively and lacked the firepower to mount a serious response against winning pitcher Randy Wolf. What developed was another loss to a first-place team, their fifth of that nature in their six most recent games, their ninth loss in 12 games overall and another reminder of the talent gap that exists any time this injury-riddled team plays one of the better teams in the league.

Moreover, the Mets' fifth loss in six games -- to the team that has had the best record in the game for weeks -- put them 5 1/2 games from first place for the first time and one game out of third.

"It's trying for us, it's a challenge for us," David Wright said, searching for a different, more upbeat way to characterize the Mets' circumstance. "It was disappointing tonight, as well as we played [Wednesday] night."

What the Phillies, Marlins and Braves do for now is secondary for the Mets, Wright said: "We have to take care of our own business. We learned that the last couple of seasons." Imagine, a reference to two slippery slope Septembers in the subsequent summer.

What the Dodgers did and the Mets didn't do was more to the point. Their victories in Los Angeles in May, when the Mets still had a batting order, were by scores of 3-2, 5-3 and 2-1. Their three games at Citi Field this week, one of them a loss, produced a 23-7 differential.

"You know, we were lucky to play them these three days," Joe Torre said. "And basically, when [Jose] Reyes really got hurt for good was at our place, so we really never faced them at full strength. So we were able to do that at the right time."

The postmortems of this defeat brought general discussion of the Mets' problems, which now include starting pitching. Hernandez allowed eight runs on 11 hits and four walks in four innings and lost his fourth consecutive start. He is winless in his six most recent starts, and the Mets have lost all six. His four-inning workday followed a five-inning start by Oliver Perez on Wednesday and a start of three-plus innings by Mike Pelfrey on Tuesday night.

All of that prompted Mets manager Jerry Manuel to muse about how he might deploy his depleted personnel -- pitchers and position players -- after the All-Star break.

"We have to think about all options at this point," Manuel said. "I think we can ill afford to say, 'This is going this way, this is going that way,' and stay with it. This is a place and a league where you've got to perform. When that's not happening, you've got to find a way to make it happen."

Those words, hardly specific, were said in response to an inquiry about Hernandez's job security as a member of the rotation. But at no point did Manuel say Hernandez's job was in jeopardy. Moreover, Manuel has made similarly thickly veiled suggestions at other times and changed little. His options are few.

Hernandez (5-5) has allowed 15 runs and 21 hits in his past two starts. His ERA, 3.88 on June 7, now is 5.10. Hernandez has allowed three, three and four runs in the first inning in his three most recent starts.

The Dodgers, who have won six of nine games, led 6-1 after two innings and 8-2 after four, producing a comfortable margin for error for Wolf, the veteran pitcher who, as a free agent last winter, had hoped to sign with the Mets. Wolf, who leads the big leagues in no-decisions with 12, earned his fourth victory in seven decisions, his first in eight starts. He allowed seven hits -- two each by Wright and Gary Sheffield -- and two walks in 6 1/3 innings.

Sheffield was ejected in the seventh inning for disputing balls and strikes.

Manny Ramirez, Russell Martin and Castro drove in two runs each, and Orlando Hudson, another would-be Met from the winter, drove in three runs with a bases-loaded double in the first.

Even in the face of Hernandez's shortfall, Manuel fell back on his pitching and defense doctrine.

"If we pitch and play defense," Hernandez said. "We can salvage ... we can compete. People talk about playing errorless baseball. I say better defense will do it. We didn't make any errors tonight. But we're not catching the ball the way I'd like to see it, we're not turning double plays, we're not making plays."

And so it goes. The 5 1/2-game difference in the standings is perilously close to the seven-game spread Manuel said would be reason for concern.

"But that doesn't concern me now," Manuel said, "as much as the way we're playing."

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