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10/06/06 9:57 PM ET

LA calling on rally, magic to stop Mets

In must-win NLDS game, Dodgers pit Maddux against Trachsel

LOS ANGELES -- Well, the Dodgers at least have a candidate to reprise the Kirk Gibson role.

A torn left quad muscle will keep Nomar Garciaparra out of Los Angeles' lineup for Saturday's Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Mets.

But the injury may also give Garciaparra, who will be available to pinch-hit, a chance to rouse the Dodgers the way the gimpy Gibson did with his seminal home run against Oakland in the 1988 World Series -- the one Los Angeles had reached by beating the Mets in the NL Championship Series.

And rousing is what the Dodgers need with the Mets one victory away from a first-stage sweep.

"Well, we're still playing," said Dodgers manager Grady Little. "As long as we're still playing, we feel like we have a chance."

The Dodgers also have on their side a veteran right-hander celebrated for changing speeds on pitches. Now Greg Maddux has to change the momentum of a series.

Maddux will be opposed by Steve Trachsel, the 15-game winner who will be working on 12 days' rest, having spent five days away from the team at the end of the season to tend to a family issue.

Trachsel declined to elaborate on the details of that absence, but proclaimed his readiness and excitement for this assignment.

"I've waited a long time for this," Trachsel said. "I'm very excited. As far as the long layoff ... I've pitched kind of sporadically like this all season. So it'll actually help me out a bit."

Talk of 2-0 leads swirled around Friday afternoon's workouts by both teams at Dodger Stadium.

Little's 2003 Boston Red Sox climbed out of such a hole against Oakland -- as did the 2001 Yankees, with whom Willie Randolph was a coach.

But media probes into the psychology of such situations were lost on some people who approach baseball the way others approach whittling wood.

"Keep it simple," said Randolph, the Mets manager. "Just play, win a ballgame and get on back home. [It's] nothing more than just going out and doing what we've been doing."

"Sometimes," Maddux said, "you pitch for bigger reasons, but it's still just pitching. Pitching is pitching -- whether it's in the bullpen or in Spring Training or in games like this."

Maddux has carried a heavy burden since the Dodgers liberated him from the North Side of Chicago on July 31. The cerebral right-hander helped deliver them to the postseason.

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Saturday, he will try to keep them in this Division Series. Mad Dog will have to turn into a junkyard dog in Game 3, and show some teeth to the Mets.

Starting pitching has played a relatively minor role in dropping the Dodgers into an 0-2 hole in this best-of-five tournament. A slow-starting, misfiring offense has been a bigger culprit.

So there is only so much Maddux can do to pump some air into the Dodgers. But if the Los Angeles lineup can get the jump on Trachsel, it will be Maddux's latest burden to protect it.

The series has boiled down to this: One alumni of the Atlanta dynasty has given the Mets a cushion; now, another alumni must knock some feathers out of it.

Few doubt that Maddux will be up to the task, least of all the Mets, who saw postseason experience at work in Tom Glavine's icy performance in Thursday night's Game 2.

"He's one of the guys who has had a ton of experience at this," said Cliff Floyd, meaning the postseason oven. "He just looked ready to go."

"He had unbelievable composure," said Paul Lo Duca, Glavine's catcher. "He made some great pitches when he had to. You name it, he had it."

The Dodgers need for Maddux to have it, too. He'll need to get in on the Mets' hands -- and stay in their heads.

"His ball moves a lot, man," Floyd said. "He figured out a way to make the ball move dramatically -- not just a little bit. And when you know how to pitch like that, you become very effective, because guys start to think and guess. As a hitter, that's the worst thing you can do."

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That's part of Maddux's plan, of course. He is an eternal schemer, and doubtless refined his game plan during two nights in Shea Stadium, watching the Mets uppercut and chop the Dodgers into two defeats.

"He's one of those pitchers who can take a great plan out to the mound and put it into effect," Little said. "Hopefully, he'll be able to do that."

The Dodgers' main hope is that he could do that for six innings -- which he has done in eight of his 12 Los Angeles starts. That would enable Little to follow him with a sensible relief tandem, Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito.

While Randolph's pitching plans have followed a blueprint, Little has gotten a total of 9 2/3 innings out of his two starters, Derek Lowe and Hong-Chih Kuo.

James Loney, who has had four at-bats since his franchise-record-tying nine-RBI game on Sept. 28 in Denver, will replace Garciaparra at first base in the Dodgers' lineup.

Seeing their pitchers get one clutch out after another has made the Mets confident, but they remain leery.

"We have to prepare the same way, keep the same mind-set," said outfielder Endy Chavez.

"Now they're going home," Mets closer Billy Wagner said Thursday night, "and they and their fans will definitely be tough. They've already been a great comeback team from desperation."

Echoed Floyd, "We have to prepare like it's 0-0. This is no time for complacency. We'll come out with the same intensity, get it done -- and relax."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.