NEW YORK -- The crowd at Shea Stadium rose to its feet and applauded the man who managed the city’s other team for 12 seasons.
From the relaxed pregame chat with New York reporters who formed a half circle around him that was four or five deep to the standing ovation he received on his way back to the bench after making a seventh-inning pitching change, Dodgers Manager Joe Torre said that his return to his hometown on Thursday was a far more pleasant experience than he anticipated.
But the game itself, Torre’s first in New York since parting ways with the Yankees in October, was a different story.
Unhinged by a catcher’s interference call on Russell Martin with two out that led to a four-run fourth for the New York Mets, opening day starter Brad Penny pitched a season-low four innings and dropped his fourth consecutive decision, an 8-4 defeat that plunged the Dodgers (26-27) under .500 for the first time since they were 12-13 on April 27.
The loss was the Dodgers’ fourth in a row and sixth in their last seven games.
“We need Brad to pitch better than that,” Torre said. “We haven’t been scoring a lot of runs and we have somebody jump out there 6-0, it’s a tall mountain for us to climb, at least lately.”
Jeff Kent provided the ailing Dodgers lineup with a lift by hitting a home run on a two-for-four night in his first game in three days, but, as Torre noted, the hits didn’t come in time.
Mets starter Claudio Vargas faced the minimum number of batters through four innings, the only danger he faced coming in the first, when Juan Pierre was thrown out at the plate by right fielder Endy Chavez when trying to tag up from third on a fly ball by Martin.
Penny couldn’t keep the Dodgers in the game, as he gave up eight hits and six runs (five earned) in four innings.
He gave up a two-out walk in the third to Luis Castillo, which was immediately followed by the first of two home runs by David Wright, this one putting the Dodgers in a 2-0 deficit.
“This stretch of bad games for me, it’s all come with two outs,” said Penny, who said he was no longer experiencing soreness in his arm. “I’m not putting the inning away.”
He had the same problem the next inning, when Martin’s glove came in contact with Vargas’ bat, allowing him to take first base. Jose Reyes singled, Castillo doubled, Pierre was charged with a throwing error when Penny failed to cover third base, Wright hit another home run and, suddenly, the Dodgers were down 6-0.
“I should’ve known he had a long swing like that,” Martin said of Vargas. “There are probably only a few guys who could do that on that pitch. If you take away the blunder that I had, it’s a completely different ballgame.”
That’s when the Dodgers started to show what Torre described as “a little fight.”
“These guys are tired of being slapped around,” Torre said of a club that scored six runs and batted .220 over their previous six games.
Kent, who missed the last two games with a stiff back, and Blake DeWitt hit home runs in a three-run fifth inning to cut the margin in half.
James Loney singled in Andre Ethier in the sixth to get the Dodgers to within 6-4.
Any ambitions of a comeback were over when relievers Scott Proctor and Joe Beimel combined to give up a pair of runs in the seventh inning, but in the process of pulling Proctor, Torre was met with a gesture from the crowd that made the night memorable.
“It made me feel good, considering the game,” Torre said, noting that he started his managerial career with the Mets at this ballpark in 1977.