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Loretta learns a lot by watching

As the New York Mets’ Ryan Church raced around third base on his way to scoring the go-ahead run in the 11th inning Monday, Dodgers third baseman Mark Loretta reflexively looked down to make sure Church touched third base.

And Church hadn’t.

“I was sort of shocked and stunned,” Loretta said Tuesday night of Church’s gaffe. “I was confident that he missed it clearly. So I motioned for the ball.”

Loretta got the ball, stepped on the bag and appealed to third base umpire Mike DiMuro, who agreed that Church had missed the base and called him out, the third out of the inning.

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It was a rare event -- appeal plays by teams alleging that a runner missed a base are seldom granted -- and a turning point in the game.

Instead of the Mets taking a 3-2 lead in the 11th, the score remained tied 2-2 and the Dodgers won in the bottom of the inning when Loretta scored after first baseman Jeremy Reed threw wildly to home plate on a grounder by Orlando Hudson -- the Mets’ fifth error of the game.

Loretta wasn’t the only one who noticed Church’s mistake.

“When he passed by, it was ringing out in this dugout, ‘He missed the bag!’ ” said Dodgers Manager Joe Torre.

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Despite the long odds of success, double-checking that the runner touches the bag is standard procedure for most infielders, said Loretta, 37, a utility infielder now in his 16th season in the big leagues.

“Any time a runner goes by, most [infielders] are in the habit of looking down and peeking” if they’re not taking a throw or otherwise involved in the play, Loretta said. “I’ve always done it.”

And he was eager to know if DiMuro saw Church miss the base as well.

“You know how when you have a big secret and you want to keep it, and you don’t want to look around too much?” Loretta said.

“I just wanted to get the ball and touch the base as quickly as I could because it was such a big moment in the game.”

Injury update

Casey Blake, the Dodgers’ regular third baseman, returned to the starting lineup Tuesday night after missing two games because of a sore left hamstring.

Torre also scheduled right-hander Jeff Weaver to start tonight’s game against the Mets in place of left-hander Eric Stults, who was nursing a bruised left thumb he injured on a fielding play against the Florida Marlins last week.

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Short hops

Right fielder Andre Ethier hit only .128 with 12 strikeouts in his 11 games before Tuesday, dropping his overall average to .264 from .327. “It’s a little bit of a flat spot he’s going through right now, hopefully that’s all it is,” Torre said. “It certainly isn’t for a lack of work, he’s been working at it” . . . The Dodgers are off to their best start in 26 years. Their 27-13 record to open this season was the best showing for the club’s first 40 games since the team went 29-11 to start 1983 . . . The Dodgers also led the National League in runs batted in (212) before Tuesday’s game, with six Dodgers having 20 or more RBIs: Ethier (29), James Loney (28), Orlando Hudson (26), Matt Kemp (25), Blake (23) and Manny Ramirez (20).

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james.peltz@latimes.com


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