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Mets Drop the Dodgers Out of First Place, 5-2

Times Staff Writer

Skeptics still outnumber true believers when it comes to gauging the magnitude of the Dodgers’ apparent resurgence this season, though a good showing against the New York Mets this weekend could bring in more converts.

But judging solely by Friday night’s 5-2 loss to the Mets before a crowd of 44,867, the Dodgers haven’t quite reached the level of the team with the National League’s best record.

And after scoring just two runs off Met pitching and failing to get an effective outing from starter Don Sutton, the Dodgers no longer are on top in the West. They dropped a half-game behind Houston and must face Met ace Dwight Gooden tonight.

“This (series) is important to us, especially if we can beat Gooden,” said Dodger outfielder Mickey Hatcher, who failed to hit safely twice with runners in scoring position. “If we can win, it might turn things around. (The Mets) are a great team, and it’s important for us to come at them.”

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Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda, though, issued a quick dissent.

“All series are important to us,” he said. “How can this be different from any other?”

While the Dodgers still may be pennant aspirants, they failed to make a good first impression on the team that most figure to be the favorite.

In fact, the Dodgers must have made the Mets feel as if Dodger Stadium were a summer cottage. By the late innings, the pro-Met chants had drowned out Dodger cheers. Subway-like fights erupted in the stands and, in one instance, spilled onto the field.

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The Dodger offense, though, didn’t have much fight against Met starter Sid Fernandez. The usual problems surfaced again Friday night as the Dodgers lost their 13th of 17 games in which they have scored fewer than four runs.

Fernandez earned his second win of the season, allowing one run and six hits while striking out seven, before leaving with an elbow injury. But he stayed around long enough to lower the Dodgers’ record to 4-7 against left-handers.

“I have no answer for that,” Lasorda said when asked about his club’s acute inability to hit left-handers.

The Dodgers’ brief resurrection from another offensive slumber directly corresponded with the departure of Fernandez, who left with one out in the seventh and Alfredo Griffin on first base following a single.

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Fernandez complained of pain in his left elbow, later diagnosed as a mildly inflamed tendon.

The Dodgers advanced runners to second and third with two out against reliever Roger McDowell, before pinch-hitter Mike Davis grounded out. But in the eighth, the Dodgers cut it to 4-2 against McDowell, John Shelby delivering a single to right that scored Kirk Gibson. Because of Darryl Strawberry’s fielding error on Shelby’s hit, Pedro Guerrero advanced to third and Shelby to second, prompting Met Manager Davey Johnson to bring in left-handed reliever Randy Myers.

Myers then struck out pinch-hitter Mike Scioscia for the second out, although new Met catcher Mackey Sasser thought it was the third out and ran a few steps toward the dugout before being waved back to home plate. Myers then forced Griffin to ground out to first base.

The Mets got all the runs they needed by the fifth inning against Sutton (3-3). Sutton had won three of his previous four starts, allowing only 7 earned runs in 23 innings. Friday night, though, the Mets hit him hard and early and chased him after 4 innings.

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“It was a bad night not to have a good night,” said Sutton, referring to the offensive drought as well as his pitching.

The first noticeable sign of weakness came in the second inning, when Howard Johnson launched a home run over the right-field fence. But then, Sutton has allowed 460 home runs in his career, so Johnson’s blast was not unusual.

Three innings later, Sutton had been replaced with a 4-0 deficit. Relievers Brian Holton, Tim Crews and Alejandro Pena limited the Mets to one hit going into the ninth, when Mookie Wilson walked, stole second and scored on Pena’s wild pitch.

Sutton’s undoing began in the fourth and carried over to the fifth. Consecutive line-drive singles by Gary Carter and Johnson, followed by Fernandez’s two-strike sacrifice bunt, put runners on second and third with one out in the fourth. Wilson lined a single to center, scoring Carter and Johnson for a 3-0 Met lead.

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Wally Backman’s single moved Wilson to third, but Sutton forced Keith Hernandez to fly out to right to end the threat.

Holton already had his arm warmed up in the bullpen by the time Sutton took the mound for the start of the fifth. He was up again quickly after Kevin McReynolds walked and stole second.

Carter brought home McReynolds with a liner down the left-field line that Gibson misplayed into a triple. Holton then replaced Sutton, who had reached the 80-pitch mark. After intentionally walking Johnson, Holton got Dave Magadan to ground into a double play.

“I was not quite as sharp as (in) other outings,” Sutton said. “Against a lesser pitcher, I might have gotten away with it. But then, bingo, it was 4-0, and Sid is pitching a fine game.”

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This was the first good effort that Fernandez, the former Dodger minor leaguer, has had for awhile. He entered Friday night’s game with a 5.57 earned-run average and left with it whittled to 4.93.

“That’s the best I’ve seen him throw all year,” Johnson said. “I’m pleased with everything he did. He needed this one more than you can imagine. I think he’ll be fine.”

Carter, the Met catcher who had an RBI triple off Sutton in the fifth inning, said Fernandez’s motivation might have been revenge.

“I think it really gave him a lift, doing it against his old club,” Carter said.

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Quipped Fernandez, when that theory was proposed: “Not really. I never played for them. I mean, I knew them for two spring trainings. But all my Dodger teammates have been released.”

Dodger Notes

Fernando Valenzuela learned this week that his father has been diagnosed with back cancer. Dr. Jose Contreras, the elder Valenzuela’s physician in Los Angeles, told the Pasadena Star-News Thursday that Huelino Valenzuela will receive radiation treatment and described the condition as critical. Fred Claire, the Dodgers’ executive vice president, said that Valenzuela has not yet asked permission to temporarily leave the team and be with his father. . . . Steve Boros, one of the Dodgers’ special assignment scouts, is in Chicago to scout Ricky Horton, the White Sox’s left-handed pitcher whom the Dodgers are interested in acquiring. The Dodgers say they need another left-handed reliever following the departure of Brad Havens.

Pitcher Ken Howell’s 20-day rehabilitation following off-season right shoulder surgery ends Sunday, and he will be optioned to Albuquerque, Claire said. Howell is expected to clear waivers Wednesday and will then join the club’s triple-A affiliate. Howell, who has made three minor league starts during his rehabilitation, was not happy with Claire’s decision. He said he felt he should be activated once his rehabilitation stint ends. “I don’t understand what the 20-day rehab was for if I’m not ready to pitch,” Howell said. “What do I have to do (in Albuquerque) to show them I’m ready? What are they looking for from me? What I don’t understand is the signs of when they think I’ll be ready. Do I have to go 10-0 down there?” Said Claire: “We’ve done this to get him ready to pitch at the major league level. I think he’s got a chance to live up to the potential he has. He’s done everything we’ve asked so far. I like his attitude.” . . . Only three umpires worked Friday night’s game because Eric Gregg’s mother is ill. A replacement is expected for tonight’s game. . . . Tim Belcher (3-1) opposes Dwight Gooden (7-0) tonight at 7.

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