NEW YORK -- If the message wasn’t clear before Friday, the Dodgers made it official just after 5 p.m. when newly acquired pitcher David Wells stepped into the visiting clubhouse at Shea Stadium: They’re in this playoff race to win it.
After all, you don’t sign the sixth-winningest active pitcher in baseball just to pad the stats.
“It’s obviously a boost for the morale in here,” outfielder Luis Gonzalez said.
“He’s a hell of a competitor,” added Manager Grady Little. “And he likes pitching in big games.”
Too bad he can’t pitch in relief, hit with runners in scoring position or find a way to get the ball past Mets third baseman David Wright. Any one of those skills would have been useful Friday when the Dodgers failed at all three, dropping a 5-2 decision to New York to fall to fourth, 3 1/2 games behind San Diego, in the National League wild-card race.
The Dodgers got runners on in every inning except the fifth, but couldn’t get any of them home until there were two outs in the eighth. They left the bases loaded in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position in the eighth and had the tying run at the plate in the ninth when Andre Ethier struck out looking to end the game.
All told, the Dodgers left 12 men on base and went one for nine with runners in scoring position while being held to fewer than four runs for the first time in 10 games. If they had built any offensive momentum during a recent streak that saw them score 54 runs in winning six of nine games, Mets starter Oliver Perez robbed them of it Friday.
Or maybe it never existed in the first place.
“I don’t believe in momentum,” catcher Russell Martin said. “What’s momentum? It’s one game at a time. In baseball, you can win or lose any given day no matter who’s on the mound.”
On this day, it was Perez on the mound. So the Dodgers lost.
But of more importance was the fact that Wright was at third, where he turned in three defensive gems, short-circuiting a potential rally by robbing Ethier and James Loney of hits in the sixth, then stepping in front of Shea Hillenbrand’s bullet to save two runs in the eighth.
Even Brad Penny couldn’t get the ball by Wright, who knocked in two runs with a third-inning single and a fifth-inning home run against the Dodgers’ starter. But then Penny and Wright have met before since Wright boasts a .643 career average against the right-hander, who is 1-9 lifetime at Shea Stadium.
“He had a great game out there,” Little said of Wright. “This kid has had some great games already and he’ll have a lot more.”
However, this one wasn’t decided at third. It was decided at the plate -- especially in the first inning, when the Dodgers loaded the bases with one out but failed to score.
“When you let the guy off the hook in the first inning -- we had him right there on the ropes, and we let him get off with no runs. That got him going,” Little said. “We had a couple of chances in the game and nothing happened.”
Any real chance the Dodgers had of coming back evaporated in the eighth when Scott Proctor gave up two runs and three hits, with a walk and a balk in his only inning of relief.
Where’s David Wells when you need him?
Well, Friday he spent most of the night in a blue sweat shirt, leaning against the dugout railing. And what he saw couldn’t have pleased him.
“I hate to lose,” he said.
His chance to prevent that comes Sunday.