LOS ANGELES -- To their credit, the Mets spent three-quarters of their four-game series at Dodger Stadium taking advantage of the home team's mistakes. Playing without injured stars Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, the Dodgers were vulnerable. Thursday through Saturday, the Mets took advantage.
But try as the Dodgers did to give their guests a four-game sweep, the Mets made far too many mistakes of their own in Sunday night's finale. Three defensive errors, multiple baserunning blunders and several ill-timed walks conspired to drive them to an 8-3 loss at Chavez Ravine, highlighting the weaknesses that still blight this roster.
It was all encapsulated in a four-run, seventh-inning rally that blew open the game. After relievers Ramon Ramirez and Justin Hampson loaded the bases on two walks and a single, Miguel Batista induced a comebacker to the mound. But catcher Mike Nickeas dropped Batista's throw, which careened to the backstop, allowing two runs to score. An Adam Kennedy sacrifice fly and a Juan Uribe double later, a much-needed four-game sweep was out of reach.
"He tried to rush it," Nickeas said of Batista. "He knew Dee Gordon was hauling down the line and he threw a little open-chested. But the throw was very much under control for me and I should catch that ball every time."
If that was the extent of it, the Mets might have survived. Instead, other mistakes did them in.
The Mets and Dodgers traded sloppy plays throughout the early innings, with New York making multiple outs on the basepaths and Los Angeles giving those outs back on defense. Despite putting each of their first four runners on base against starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw, the Mets plated only one first-inning run because the Dodgers picked Andres Torres off first base and nailed Scott Hairston attempting to stretch a single into a double.
"I did [make] some mistakes, but tomorrow's another day," said Torres, who made four outs on the basepaths in the four-game series. "I have to come back and try to do better."
Sitting in the dugout, Mets manager Terry Collins muttered to himself that his team should have built a much bigger margin, pushing Kershaw's pitch count ever higher. The Dodgers even gifted the Mets two more runs in the third inning on a pair of throwing errors by shortstop Dee Gordon.
But Kershaw, the National League's reigning Cy Young Award winner, settled into a groove after that, lasting seven innings, retiring the final nine batters he faced and striking out five of them.
"I don't care what Clayton's record is, I'll take him any day of the week against anybody," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "If he's not the best pitcher in baseball, I think he's right there. In a big game in a tough situation, I'll take Kershaw any day."
Two Dodgers doubles led to a run in the first inning off Mets starter Dillon Gee. But a more damaging rally came in the fifth, when fielding errors by second baseman Ronny Cedeno and first baseman Justin Turner allowed Los Angeles to plate two unearned runs of its own. An inning later, Gee walked the leadoff batter, served up a double to Kennedy and allowed a go-ahead groundout to James Loney.
Cedeno, Turner and Nickeas were all in the lineup only because the Mets were facing Kershaw, a lefty starter who wreaks havoc on lefty hitters. Collins has taken to starting those three regularly over Daniel Murphy, Ike Davis and Josh Thole whenever the team faces lefties.
It cost them, especially considering Gee otherwise pitched well. Despite the betrayal of his defense, he lasted six innings, allowing five hits, striking out four and walking two.
"It does dampen the mood a little bit to lose a game like this," Gee said. "But at the same time, we had a good series here. Hopefully, we don't look at this as a setback."
The Mets mustered a 4-3 record on their seven-game road trip, though they set out aiming to do better against the last-place Cubs and banged-up Dodgers. They did not. So with six games remaining before the All-Star break, the Mets -- who are guaranteed to be at least a .500 team at baseball's midway point -- will have to perform more consistently against the Phillies and Cubs at Citi Field.
Mistake-free baseball is their goal. If they achieve it, wins should follow.
"We played well here," Gee said. "You've got to look at the bright things that we did well here for the past four days. If we can just take that into the next series, we should be fine."