NLDS: Dodgers vs. Mets: Game of Attrition

It was a game of baseball, but it was also a game of attrition. The Mets managed to beat the Dodgers in yesterday’s division series game by winning the attrition game and, oh yeah, thanks to a fine pitching performance by Tom Glavine.

The Dodgers sent sensational rookie Hong-Chih Kuo to the mound against veteran All-Star Glavine. Both pitchers are lefties, but that’s just about where the similarities end. Kuo is a flamethrower with poise and Glavine is a crafty lefthander with outstanding control.

This was a key game for the Dodgers. The Mets don’t have their best offense numbers against lefties, and the Dodgers needed Kuo to shut them down and even the series. Kuo did his job, allowing only one run before leaving in the middle of the fifth (the Mets scored another run that was credited to Kuo after he had left). But the leaving was the important part.

Kuo’s stuff is nasty (and Ted Barrett’s strike zone was generous for both pitchers) but the Mets took pitches, fouled some off, and generally wore the rookie down. After just two innings, he had thrown 37 pitches and after four, he had thrown 72 pitches in 15 plate appearances (4.8 per plate appearance). By that time, the fatigue was starting to show, and the Mets’ last two outs that inning were big blasts to right field by David Wright and Cliff Floyd. Both balls were crushed, but J.D. Drew managed to glove both of them (the first a really fine play off Wright’s blow).

The key inning was the fifth. In the top of the inning, the Dodgers got a man on second with one out and Luo due up. I thought manager Grady Little should have pinch-hit for the rookie, given how he had loooked the previous half-inning, but Little let Luo swing and, to be honest, Luo looks like a pretty good batter for a pitcher. He managed a groundball that got the runner to third, but Kenny Lofton left him stranded there. In fact, Lofton was the official WPA “goat of the game,” with the lowest WPA total (-.126) of any player.

The Mets had already scrounged a run off Kuo in the third on a bunt hit by Endy Chavez, a wild pitch and two groundouts. Hardly an impressive rally. But in the bottom of the fifth, Jose Valentin drew a walk, Chavez singled (again) and Glavine laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt. After an intentional walk to Jose Reyes to load the bases, Little decided it was time to pull Luo.

The Mets scored only one run off reliever Brett Tomko the rest of the inning, but then added two more in the sixth off Tomko and Mark Hendrickson and Little’s reluctance to pull Luo became clearer. The Dodgers’ bullpen just isn’t deep enough to support an aggressive move early, but the Mets’s attrition game eventually won out.

Attrition also played a role in the sixth when Nomar Garciaparra, who has had a fine year and some big hits for the Dodgers, had to leave the game. Nomar has two days to recuperate before the next game, so here’s hoping he’s back to full strength by then.

The rest of the game played out pretty much as expected, though you have to wonder why Chad Billingsley wasn’t brought into the game earlier. Wilson Betemit hit a home run off Aaron Heilman in the eighth, but Billy Wagner once more closed out the ninth and the Mets take an important 2-0 lead to Saturday’s game in Los Angeles.

The hero of the game was Tom Glavine (0.294 WPA). Glavine controlled the Dodgers’ bats and bat speed throughout the evening and pitched shutout ball for six fine innings. For all of the hype and expectatations built around Kuo, it was Glavine who showed how it is done.

Other notes:

  • For all of the hype about the injuries to Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez, it is actually Joe Beimel’s cut hand that has had the biggest impact. It has undermined Little’s flexibility with his pitching staff, and the contrast with the Mets’ deep bullpen has shown what a difference that can be.
  • The difference between the Mets’ and Dodgers’ fielding also had an impact last night. Kenny Lofton’s range in center appears to be about half of Carlos Beltran’s, and Rafael Furcal didn’t have a good night. The Dodgers also botched a couple of sacrifice bunts, and the only highlight in the field was Drew’s grab of Wright’s smash. The Mets didn’t pull off any sensational fielding plays—they didn’t have to behind Glavine—but they were solid throughout the night.
  • It was an odd game from a Win Probability Added perspective. Unlike last night’s game, there was no big blow. In fact, the biggest WPA gain of the evening of Glavine getting Lofton to ground out in the fifth (0.069).

Here’s the WPA graph:

(To learn more about this type of graph, read this article).

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Dave Studeman was called a "national treasure" by Rob Neyer. Seriously. Follow his sporadic tweets @dastudes.

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