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Dodgers Go Wild

Regulars sit out 4-3 win over San Francisco in preparation for an NL best-of-five series with the New York Mets starting Wednesday.

October 02, 2006|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — In the end, it didn't matter what lineup the Dodgers rolled out for Sunday's season finale against the San Francisco Giants or whether they put any effort into beating their archrivals.

The San Diego Padres held on to beat the Arizona Diamondbacks and, by virtue of their season-series edge over the Dodgers, clinched the National League West's top playoff seeding, rendering the Dodgers' result moot.

Even though the Dodgers' junior varsity beat the Giants, 4-3, in AT&T Park behind Julio Lugo's game-winning, run-scoring single in the seventh inning to claim a share of the division title, the Dodgers were relegated to wild-card status and will travel to New York to open the division series against the Mets on Wednesday.

Not that being a wild card is any obstacle to playoff success. Three of the last four World Series champions -- the 2002 Angels, 2003 Florida Marlins and 2004 Boston Red Sox -- were wild-card teams.

"If I was anyone else right now," Manager Grady Little said, "I wouldn't want to be playing the Dodgers."

The Dodgers finished with a flourish, winning seven games in a row and nine out of 10, several in dramatic fashion, and they are clearly the league's hottest team.

Although home-field advantage against gasping-for-air St. Louis, which lost nine of its last 12 to back into the playoffs, was enticing, the Dodgers aren't intimidated by the Mets, who tied the New York Yankees for the best record in baseball (97-65) but are 7-10 since Sept. 15 and lost ace Pedro Martinez for at least eight months because of a rotator-cuff injury.

"I don't see how you can go in playing any better than we are," Little said. "I'd take the fact we're playing well over home-field advantage."

Little and General Manager Ned Colletti set those priorities Saturday, after the Dodgers clinched a playoff spot with a win over the Giants, and they were reflected in Sunday's lineup, which featured no starters and rookie left-hander Eric Stults on the mound.

That enabled the Dodgers to rest ailing first baseman Nomar Garciaparra and second baseman Jeff Kent and hold ace Derek Lowe, Sunday's scheduled starter, for Wednesday's playoff opener against right-hander Orlando Hernandez.

In a bit of a surprise, Little said rookie left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo would start Game 2 on Thursday over Greg Maddux, who will start Game 3 on Saturday in Dodger Stadium.

The Mets were 25-22 against left-handed starters this season and 72-43 against right-handers. They hit .254 with 44 home runs in 1,605 at-bats against left-handers, the second-worst average against left-handers in the majors, and .268 with 156 homers in 3,914 at-bats against right-handers.

One other determining factor: Kuo threw six shutout innings, giving up three hits and striking out seven, in his major league debut as a starter, a 5-0 win over the Mets in Shea Stadium on Sept. 8.

"We like him pitching there because of the success he had there in his first start, and he's pitched well in every game since," Little said of Kuo, who will oppose left-hander Tom Glavine. "He's rested, and it's his day to pitch."

Beyond Maddux, Brad Penny is tentatively scheduled to start Game 4 on Sunday, but Little didn't want to commit to the right-hander until he had a better read on the lower-back stiffness that has hindered Penny in his last two starts.

Had the Dodgers opened against the Cardinals, a series that plays Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday, Little said he would have used a three-man rotation with Penny pitching out of the bullpen.

Penny, who said he "felt good" after throwing in the bullpen Saturday, will throw another side session Tuesday before the Dodgers finalize their rotation.

Garciaparra, who sat out the last two games because of a muscle strain, said he would be ready to start Wednesday, when the Dodgers and Mets stage a rematch of the 1988 NL championship series, which the Dodgers won in seven games after Mike Scioscia's score-tying, series-turning, ninth-inning home run in Game 4.

"The Mets are a great team, but at this point of the year, everyone is going to be tough," Garciaparra said."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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