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Dodgers Lose Again; Butler Gets Only RBI : Baseball: Lead over Rockies is still one game, but Padres now within three.


NEW YORK — Those silly Dodgers.

They looked at their remaining schedule, saw patsy after patsy, and convinced themselves the National League West race was over.

Who could blame them? They don't play another team with a winning record until the final 10 days of the season. They not only were playing six games against the hapless New York Mets, but before they even stepped on the Shea Stadium field, the Mets handed over their best player, center fielder Brett Butler.

Well, as that eternal optimist Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda pointed out Saturday night after the Dodgers' 2-1 defeat to the Mets in front of a paid crowd of 25,726, look at the bright side.

As painful as it was losing consecutive games to the Mets, imagine the humiliation of suffering consecutive shutouts if they had not gotten Butler from the Mets on Friday.

"That's one consolation," Lasorda said. "We scored three runs in two ball games, and the same guy [Butler] drives in all three runs."

The Dodgers (56-50) managed just one unearned run in 7 1/3 innings against journeyman Dave Mlicki, 6-6 with a 4.37 earned-run average. And even when he left with a tight lower back, it made no difference.

"This shouldn't be happening," Dodger second baseman Chad Fonville said. "We've got to sweep a last-place team. We can't let these teams come up and beat us like that.

"If we keep playing like this, it's going to run away from us. We're in first place. We should take advantage of that."

Yet the Dodgers have been playing like a frightened team of late, and while they continue to look over their shoulders at the Colorado Rockies, here come the San Diego Padres. The Dodgers lead the Rockies by one game, and the Padres have crept to within three games with only 38 games remaining.

"I think we're too uptight right now," Dodger catcher Mike Piazza said. "A lot of guys have never been through this before and they're feeling a little bit of pressure.

"Hopefully, we're getting this out of our system. Now is the time to go through a funk like this without waiting until the last week of the season."

Lasorda, however, plans to put a stop to it right now. He has scheduled a team meeting before today's game.

"I don't know what direction it will be," Lasorda said, "but I'll definitely have a talk with them. I just think they're trying too hard. No question about it."

Certainly, there has to be some explanation why the only runs the Dodgers have scored in two nights have been on a two-run triple by Butler on Friday and a sacrifice fly by Butler on Saturday.

Starters Ramon Martinez and Tom Candiotti have yielded only five hits in 13 innings the last two nights--and are winless. The only flaw in Candiotti's performance Saturday occurred in the fourth. He gave up a leadoff double to Carl Everett, hit Jeff Kent with a pitch, and gave up a run-scoring single to Rico Brogna.

Candiotti appeared to be escaping further damage when he struck out Ryan Thompson and induced Butch Huskey to hit a fly ball to medium-depth right field. Raul Mondesi threw a strike to the plate in time to nail Kent, but Piazza dropped the ball.

"It was in between hops and hit the lip [of the grass]," Piazza said. "What can I say? It just popped out of my glove."

Who would have imagined the run would prove to be the difference in the game?

"This is as good as I've thrown," said Candiotti (6-11), whose teammates have scored only 45 runs in his last 18 starts, and 10 runs were in one game. 'That's what makes it so frustrating.

"These are teams you really have got to send a message to.

"You want to beat them.

"You want to beat them bad.

"But look at us."

Walk around the Dodger clubhouse, and everyone has a different theory for their breakdown. They are too uptight. They are too overconfident. The Mets have the advantage because they have nothing to lose. The Dodgers have the disadvantage because they have everything to lose.

"I couldn't even begin to guess what it is," Dodger third baseman Tim Wallach said. "But I know one thing, it's a hell of a lot more fun being in a race than not being one. I know. I've been on both places.

"It's a whole lot easier to get up for games when you're playing for something. That's why none of this makes sense."

Of course, the Dodgers have traditionally stunk on this three-city trip. They're 31-56 on this swing through the New York, Montreal and Philadelphia since 1990, but considering how poorly those teams are playing this season, the Dodgers figured their fate would be different.

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