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Cardinals Leave Dodgers Uncomfortably Numb

Times Staff Writer

Turning 33 years old Sunday didn’t rob Nomar Garciaparra of his quick reactions. At least not in the dugout.

Frustration with the Dodgers’ slide and his own slump boiled over in the sixth inning after he popped out with runners on first and third. He flung his helmet at the bat rack and barely ducked out of the way when it ricocheted back at him.

If only the Dodgers could bounce back as quickly as Garciaparra’s helmet.

They’ve lost five games in a row, and 10 of 11, after a numbingly typical 6-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium.

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Heard this one before? The Cardinals hit home runs; the Dodgers didn’t. The Cardinals got a standout performance from their starting pitcher; the Dodgers didn’t. The Cardinals were aggressive and smart on defense and on the basepaths; the Dodgers weren’t.

At least the Dodgers are through with the Cardinals, who beat them seven times without a loss in the last 11 days. Bye, bye, Birdies.

This time it wasn’t Albert Pujols or Jim Edmonds who delivered the big blows. Juan Encarnacion, an outfielder the Dodgers eagerly unloaded two years ago because they felt he was overpaid, homered twice against rookie Chad Billingsley.

Jason Marquis was knocked around by the Atlanta Braves in his last start for 12 runs in five innings. However, the Dodgers made him look like a Cy Young candidate, eking out four hits in eight innings and putting two runners on base in the same inning only once, in the sixth.

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That’s when Garciaparra popped up and J.D. Drew grounded out to end the inning. Both outs came on the first pitch, triggering boos from the crowd and consternation in the press box.

Garciaparra, however, has made a career out of driving first-pitch mistakes, and he isn’t going to change. He is 25 for 71 hitting the first pitch this season and is batting .350 on the first pitch the last four years.

He had taken a curveball for strike one during his fourth-inning at-bat, and Garciaparra figured Marquis would start him off with another curve.

“That’s what I got, and I barely missed it,” he said. “That’s what I was mad about.”

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Drew, back in the lineup two days after getting hit in the right knee by a pitch, normally is more patient than Garciaparra. He’s 12 for 47 swinging at the first pitch.

“I’m looking for a ball to drive,” he said. “I’m looking for anything to get going.”

Drew hasn’t homered in 130 at-bats and the Dodgers are last in the National League with 78 homers, a weakness made more noticeable because the Cardinals homered in all seven games against them and have hit at least one in a franchise-record 19 consecutive games.

The Dodgers, powerless at the plate and seemingly powerless to change their sagging fortunes, held a players-only meeting after Saturday’s game.

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“Meetings can help,” pitcher Aaron Sele said. “There are good, quality people here who work hard. If anyone thinks the veterans keep to themselves, that’s a misperception.

“There’s a lot of communication, picking each other up, analyzing situations and passing along information. But it still takes going out and playing well.”


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