Dodgers 4, Mets 2

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NEW YORK (AP)—Try finding a pitcher who can get Adrian Beltre out right now. The New York Mets certainly couldn’t.

Beltre went 5-for-5 with his major league-leading 42nd home run, and the Los Angeles Dodgers got a pair of big pinch hits in a 4-2 victory Saturday.

“A tremendous game to win, especially the way we did it,” Dodgers manager Jim Tracy said. “I don’t know what else you can say about our third baseman. I don’t know the last time I’ve seen him hit a ball softly.”

Eric Gagne pitched a perfect ninth inning for his 36th save in 38 chances and first since Aug. 15. His 143rd save since 2002 broke Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley’s major league record for most in a three-year span. Eckersley had 142 from 1990-92 with Oakland.

Two other Los Angeles relievers also dominated during the late innings, and the Dodgers extended their NL West lead to five games over the San Francisco Giants, who lost 9-3 in Atlanta.

“The last couple of years we’ve been chasing them, now they’re chasing us,” Beltre said. “We have to keep playing good ball because we know for sure that the Giants will.”

Jeff Keppinger led off the first inning with his first major league homer for the Mets, who lost for the sixth time in seven games.

Richard Hidalgo hit an RBI single and starting pitcher Jae Seo left with a 2-1 lead in the seventh, but Beltre and the Dodgers rallied against New York’s shaky bullpen.

Beltre singled off Ricky Bottalico with one out in the eighth. Mike Stanton (2-6) gave up a double to Shawn Green, and pinch-hitter Olmedo Saenz came through with an RBI infield single up the middle to tie it.

Pinch-hitter Jose Hernandez followed with a single to center, giving the Dodgers a 3-2 lead and bringing boos from an Irish Day crowd of 40,660 on a hot and muggy afternoon at Shea Stadium.

“The bench has been one of the constants for our team all year,” Tracy said. “They have enabled us to do things that we were not able to do last year.”

Beltre added a two-out RBI single in the ninth off Braden Looper, setting a career high with his fifth hit, one day after his 12-game hitting streak ended.

He raised his batting average seven points to .342 in a breakout season.

“He had some kind of day. That looked like a pretty good pitch he actually hit out of the ballpark,” Mets manager Art Howe said. “He’s locked in right now, that’s for sure.”

Curiously left off the All-Star team last month, Beltre has quickly become a leading candidate for NL MVP. He hit his 13th home run of August to tie it at 1 in the third.

“I don’t feel anything. I just go in there and hack,” said Beltre, who can become a free agent after the season. “Sometimes you can think too much. I’m going good right now, I’m just enjoying this month.”

Giovanni Carrara (4-1) struck out two in a perfect seventh for the win, and Yhency Brazoban did the same in the eighth to set up Gagne.

“He’s got two really good pitches, and he’s fearless. It’s good to come in behind a guy like that,” Gagne said.

Odalis Perez allowed just two runs and four hits in six innings, but again the Dodgers provided him with little run support. He has a 3.09 ERA and 15 no-decisions—the most in the majors.

Called up from Triple-A Norfolk on Friday and sporting an orange-tinted hairdo, Seo gave up one run and five hits in 6 1-3 solid innings. He was sent to the minors on July 30 when the Mets traded for pitchers Kris Benson and Victor Zambrano.

“It’s not fun to lose your job,” Seo said through a translator. “I went down there, I thought about what I need to do to become a more consistent pitcher at the major league level. … It’s definitely one of my better games of the year.”

Seo struck out five, including Hee-Seop Choi, his high school teammate in South Korea. Choi was hitless in three at-bats against Seo, dropping to 4-for-11 with a homer and two RBIs against the right-hander.

“Nothing changed in terms of my approach,” Seo said. “I think I was a step ahead of him today, and I think it showed.”

Perez had trouble with leadoff batters all day, walking three in addition to giving up Keppinger’s home run. But he induced a couple of double-play grounders, and the Mets cost themselves with a baserunning blunder in the fourth.

Todd Zeile drew a leadoff walk from Perez and scored on Hidalgo’s single for a 2-1 lead. With two on and one out, Cliff Floyd broke too early from second on a steal attempt and was tagged out in a rundown after Perez alertly stepped off the mound.

Notes

Mike Piazza went 1-for-3 for Class-A St. Lucie and played first base in an injury rehabilitation assignment. The Mets expect to activate him Monday. … Keppinger gave the Mets a team-record seven leadoff home runs this season. Kaz Matsui has five and Eric Valent one. Lenny Dykstra and Mookie Wilson each hit three leadoff homers in 1986, when New York won its last World Series title. … Keppinger made his fourth big league start. He was acquired from Pittsburgh in the Benson trade and called up from Norfolk on Aug. 20. … It was the first five-hit game by a Dodgers player this season. Beltre had four hits 11 times before in his career.

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