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Dodgers' possession of first place is short lived after 4-2 loss to Mets

Dodgers' possession of first place is short lived after 4-2 loss to Mets
New York Mets third baseman Todd Frazier comes up short trying to steal second base, as Dodgers second baseman Max Muncy forces him out. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

The Dodgers spent fewer than 28 hours in first place. A day after crushing Arizona’s spirit with a walkoff victory, the Dodgers stumbled through a 4-2 defeat to the Mets and let Colorado pull ahead in the National League West. Ownership of the loss belonged to Kenta Maeda, who served up a tiebreaking, three-run homer in the ninth inning to Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo.

In order to reach the ninth inning tied, the Dodgers had to waste scoring opportunities in the seventh and eighth innings after chasing Mets ace Jacob deGrom from the mound after six. The team stranded six runners and managed one hit in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position.

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The group produced a run in the ninth inning on a sacrifice fly, but Matt Kemp could not replicate his heroics from the previous two days. He grounded into a game-ending double play when he represented the tying run.

“I thought he was going to do it again,” Cody Bellinger said with a smile afterward. “Obviously, it’s hard, three nights in a row.”

And it is hard to run away with a division after running in place for so much of the season. The Dodgers finished Monday trailing the Rockies by only half a game, a far cry from the 4½-game deficit they erased over the past two weeks. But the magic on Sunday met the reality of Monday: The Dodgers (75-63) cannot coast through the final month of the season as they did in 2017.

On Monday, the offense was muffled for the first six innings by deGrom. He permitted a solo home run to Justin Turner in the first inning and allowed two more Dodgers to reach base from there. Alex Wood lasted only five innings, but held the Mets to one run.

Maeda gave the Mets the lead in the ninth. He was pitching in his second inning of the night, as the Dodgers played without Kenley Jansen, who had appeared in the previous three games. Maeda crumbled in the ninth. He gave up a leadoff double, hit a batter and slopped a slider over the plate to Nimmo. Nimmo crushed the pitch and crushed the Dodgers hopes of extending their winning streak to four games.

“He tried to get that breaking ball to the back foot,” manager Dave Roberts said. “And it just didn’t get there. Nimmo put a good swing on it.”

The Dodgers returned to the diamond after the emotional peak of a series victory over Arizona. The team vaulted into sole possession of first place with three comeback victories against the Diamondbacks. Kemp delivered the decisive blow against Arizona reliever Archie Bradley on Saturday and again on Sunday, the latter a walkoff double that led to a joyous mosh pit down the third-base line.

Standing before them on Monday were the fourth-place Mets, the sort of club the Dodgers must punish if they intend to hold off Arizona and Colorado. Roberts suggested the presence of deGrom would keep his team sharp.

“When you’ve got arguably the best pitcher in the National League going against us tonight, I don’t think it’s going to be a problem for us to get up,” Roberts said.

New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom pitches against the Dodgers.
New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom pitches against the Dodgers. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

DeGrom is the consensus favorite to win the National League Cy Young Award. He entered Monday with a 1.68 earned-run average. The Dodgers were one of the few teams to make him look ordinary. In an outing at Citi Field in June, the Dodgers taxed deGrom for three runs in six innings.

“The stuff is electric,” Roberts said. “Ultimately, you’re going to have to beat him with his fastball.”

Turner practiced that blueprint in the first inning. He hammered a 96-mph fastball. The solo homer landed a dozen rows deep in the left-field bleachers.

A quirk of deGrom’s season is his record. He carried an 8-8 mark to the mound on Monday, a testament to the woefulness of his teammates. He devised a solution to their ineptitude in the fifth inning: After Wood walked outfielder Jay Bruce and gave up a single to catcher Devin Mesoraco, deGrom cracked a two-out, game-tying single into right field.

“I just left a breaking ball up,” Wood said. “Pretty much as simple as that.”

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The hit brought Roberts to the mound. Wood had given up five hits and walked two batters on his way to collecting 14 outs. Roberts permitted Wood to procure one more, a flyout by Mets shortstop Amed Rosario, before turning the game over to the bullpen.

The Mets created openings for their hosts. Mets third baseman Todd Frazier muffed a grounder from Yasiel Puig in the fifth; Andrew Toles struck out as a pinch hitter to strand Puig. Rosario fumbled a grounder cracked by Turner at the end of a 12-pitch at-bat. DeGrom whiffed Manny Machado with a slider and induced a groundout from Max Muncy to end the inning.

The Dodgers produced only two hits against deGrom. But he needed 109 pitches to complete six innings. Mets reliever Seth Lugo took over in the seventh. He was greeted with a double by Alex Verdugo, who lined a first-pitch fastball into the right-center gap. Bellinger moved Verdugo to third with a single into left field.

Verdugo advanced no further. The hitters added another chapter to their wretched season of runners in scoring position. Yasmani Grandal struck out. Puig pounded a 2-0 slider from Lugo into the ground for a 6-4-3 double play.

“Yaz got out of the strike zone, got a little bit,” Roberts said. “And Yasiel, got a 2-0 pitch he could hit and hit it hard. Just in that situation, obviously, you want to elevate it.”

Another opportunity was squandered in the eighth. Turner took a two-out walk off reliever Drew Smith. Machado stung a 98-mph fastball and hit a rocket into right field. The ball jumped the wall for a ground-rule double, keeping Turner at third. He ended the inning there when Enrique Hernandez flied out.

The ninth presented a more curious situation. Verdugo singled off Mets reliever Robert Gsellman. Moments later, Bellinger smashed a ball down the first-base line. The initial call from the umpire was foul. A replay review overturned that decision, but Bellinger was only awarded a single, rather than a double.

Grandal lifted a sacrifice fly to cut the deficit to two. Kemp grounded into the Dodgers’ third double play of the game to end it.

“The runners in scoring position,” Verdugo said, “some of those things just didn’t happen today for us.”

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