NLDS: Dodgers vs. Mets: A Game of Inches

They say that baseball is a game of inches, and Game 3 of the National League Division Series certainly conformed to that cliche. In a game that was much closer than the final score indicated, the Mets were able to make just enough plays in an exciting, sloppy game to defeat the Dodgers 9-5 and complete a sweep in the National League Division Series. That they were able to do so despite missing two of their top starters and some uncharacteristic slipups by their bullpen highlights just how dominant their offense has been this season.

The top of the first inning basically epitomized the game, with both teams making mental errors, but the Mets getting just enough breaks and timely hitting to get ahead of the Dodgers. With Greg Maddux on the mound two days after his former rotation-mate Tom Glavine defeated the Dodgers in Game 2, the Mets pushed three quick runs across despite Paul Lo Duca getting thrown at at third base on an ill-advised attempt to go from first to third on Carlos Beltran‘s single with one out. Then, after a ground ball by Carlos Delgado found the hole on the right side of the infield and David Wright hit a line drive to draw first blood, Dodgers left fielder Marlon Anderson (with just 94 career games in the outfield) inexplicably let a soft Cliff Floyd fly ball drop in front of him, allowing Delgado to score and the inning to continue. Shawn Green continued the scoring wth a line drive to score Wright, and the Mets had staked Steve Trachsel to a 3-0 lead.

Still, the Mets weren’t about to make this easy for themselves, with a Wright throwing error in the bottom half putting runners on first and second, Jose Reyes getting caught stealing in the second inning on a pitchout to snuff a potential rally, and Cliff Floyd leaving the game with an ankle injury. Through it all, Trachsel did more or less what was asked of him, which was basically not completely implode over a few innings and get the ball to the bullpen with a lead.

Despite giving up six hits and a walk in just 3.1 innings, Trachsel managed to do just that, albeit leaving after giving up two runs on a bases loaded single to James Loney. Still, the Mets again made the play they had to, with reliever Darren Oliver snaring pinch hitter Andre Ethier‘s hard hit line drive to start a double play.

Still, the Dodgers, who had not led since the fourth inning of Game 1, had one last rally in them in the fifth inning, when they staged a two out rally against Oliver, who resurrected his career with by posting a 3.44 ERA in 81 innings as the Mets’ long man. Jeff Kent hit a two-run home run following Marlon Anderson’s two-out single, and Los Angeles loaded the bases on consecutive singles by J.D. Drew and Russell Martin and a walk by Wilson Betemit. With Mets manager Willie Randolph managing to win, lefty-specialist Pedro Feliciano came in to face the left-handed Loney, but walked him on five pitches. Still, as they have in so many games this season, the Mets’ pitching made just enough plays to keep their offense in the game, with Feliciano recovering to get pinch hitter Nomar Garciaparra, the newly minted National League Comeback Player of the Year, to ground out softly.

Nowhere was the combination of timely hitting and fortuitous bounces more evident than in the pivotal top half of sixth inning. Both teams’ starters had already long been knocked out, and the Dodgers had just rallied for the lead with three two-out runs in the bottom of the fifth to make it 5-4. Rookie Jonathan Broxton relieved Mark Hendrickson for the Dodgers, and Dodger Stadium with cackling with energy. At that point, no one would have faulted the Mets for folding a little bit, given that they were on the road, up 2-0 in the series and had to throw Trachsel out there.

But Green smoked a double down the right-field line, and after a Jose Valentin pop up and a Michael Tucker walk, the Mets got the bounces they needed, with Reyes, Lo Duca and Beltran each getting singles to fall in the outfield to score three runs and take the lead back. Broxton recovered to strike out Delgado and Wright, and was not hit particularly hard that inning, but the damage was done and the Mets never relinquished their lead. Not exactly the high octane offense that powered the Mets this season, but it got the job done.

In the bottom half of the inning, the Dodgers’ poor luck continued, as Jeff Kent’s double with Kenny Lofton on first and two outs, which was absolutely smoked, flew right past Endy Chavez and over the left field wall for a ground-rule double, preventing Lofton from scoring. Then, with Kent representing the tying run, Drew hit a routine fly ball to center field and the Dodgers never put the tying run on base after that.

The Mets tacked on two insurance runs in the eighth off of Brett Tomko, again with the help of the Los Angeles defense, with Betemit throwing the second out into right field, allowing Lo Doca, who had singled in Chris Woodward, to score. The Mets bullpen bent but never broke, with Guillermo Mota, Aaron Heilman and Billy Wagner throwing four shutout innings to send the Mets on to the NLCS.

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