"Game Over," Eric Gagne's ninth-inning mantra, is suddenly taking on a new meaning.
The Dodger closer suffered another exasperating defeat Thursday night at Dodger Stadium during a 6-5 loss to the Atlanta Braves, one night after giving up four ninth-inning runs in a rare blown save.
Adrian Beltre and Shawn Green had each homered twice, helping the Dodgers erase deficits of 4-0 and 5-1, before the once seemingly impenetrable Gagne wobbled for a second consecutive outing, giving up three hits in the ninth.
Pinch-hitter Adam LaRoche's broken-bat single through the right side of a drawn-in infield scored pinch-runner Nick Green with the go-ahead run and prompted a disgusted Gagne to pick up a piece of LaRoche's bat and fire it toward the Braves' dugout.
"Any other time, it's an out," LaRoche said. "The infield was just in."
Gagne (4-3) continued his display of frustration in the dugout after the inning, scattering equipment with his foot before retreating to the clubhouse.
Atlanta closer John Smoltz retired the Dodgers in order in the ninth to record his 32nd save and send those who remained from a crowd of 42,287 home in a daze.
Beltre and Shawn Green had tied the score at 5-5 with back-to-back homers off reliever Chris Reitsma (6-3) leading off the eighth, and the Dodgers appeared poised for a dramatic comeback victory after sending out Gagne to pitch the ninth.
But Johnny Estrada singled up the middle past diving second baseman Alex Cora, and Nick Green, running for Estrada, went to second on Eli Marrero's sacrifice bunt. Green took third on a passed ball before LaRoche delivered the biggest hit of his rookie season, sending the Dodgers to a defeat that trimmed their lead over the San Francisco Giants in the National League West to 4 1/2 games.
"I made some bad pitches. It happens," said Gagne, who has lost in consecutive appearances for the first time since June 23 and July 2, 2003. "We should have won today, we should have won last night. We came back and battled, so to lose that way is real frustrating."
Said Beltre: "It's going to happen. Gagne's not always going to be perfect. Better now than later; we need him down the stretch."
The Dodgers didn't figure to need Gagne after Kazuhisa Ishii required 31 pitches to get through a first inning in which he gave up four runs on two hits and two walks. Estrada delivered the big blow with a two-out, two-run double. Estrada also homered off Ishii in the fourth, giving Atlanta a 5-1 lead.
Left to play catch-up, the Dodgers got big contributions from Beltre and Shawn Green, who each hit two solo homers. Beltre's two gave him 36 homers, the most in a season by an L.A. Dodger infielder; Green has 20, and six in his last 12 games.
"It's never about personal" achievement, Beltre said after extending his personal single-season record for homers. "You don't really enjoy it if your team doesn't win."
The Dodgers couldn't fully capitalize on a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the fourth, scoring only one run on David Ross' sacrifice fly.
Former Dodger reliever Tom Martin helped the Braves escape a two-on, none-out mess in the seventh, striking out Steve Finley, the only batter he faced, for the second out.
Kevin Gryboski then struck out Milton Bradley on a full count, prompting Bradley to slam his batting helmet to the turf with both hands.
"An inch here, an inch there, we win this ballgame," Dodger Manager Jim Tracy said. "To battle back, you can't ask for any more effort than that."
After Green and Beltre homered in the eighth, the Dodgers put two on with two out but came up empty again when shortstop Rafael Furcal made a diving stop of a Cesar Izturis grounder that appeared headed up the middle. Furcal flipped to second baseman Marcus Giles for a force at second.