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Stults gives Dodgers boost in first start, beats Mets

NEW YORK (AP) -- Maybe the Los Angeles Dodgers should try some
more first-time starters.

Eric Stults became the second Dodgers rookie pitcher to shut
down the Mets, limiting New York to two hits over six innings in a
9-1 rout Sunday.

Stults, a 26-year-old left-hander making his first major league
start, combined with three relievers on a three-hitter. On Friday,
Hong-Chih Kuo and three relievers teamed on a four-hitter in a 5-0
win.

"There's no way we could ask for any better," Dodgers manager
Grady Little said. "We had two kids that we knew we could put out
there with decent stuff, that we knew they would compete."

Kenny Lofton gave Stults the lead with a three-run triple in the
third off a shaky Steve Trachsel, and Nomar Garciaparra added a
three-run homer and four RBI for the Dodgers, who remained 1½
games ahead of second-place San Diego in the NL West. The Padres
beat the Giants 10-2 Sunday night.

The Mets, who beat Brad Penny and Greg Maddux in the other two
games of the series, saw the magic number for clinching their first
NL East title since 1988 trimmed to four when Philadelphia lost to
Florida.

Pitching in place of Mark Hendrickson, who is working on his
mechanics while pitching in relief, Stults gave up a single up the
middle to his second batter, Endy Chavez, and didn't allow another
hit until Jose Reyes homered to left-center with two outs in the
sixth.

After Chavez's hit, Stults got Paul Lo Duca to hit into an
inning-ending double play.

"I had to kind of regain my composure and, fortunately, after
that I kind of settled in and felt really comfortable," Stults
said. "You get through that first inning and nothing was hurt, put
up a zero, it's always easier to go out there the next inning. It
takes a little pressure off."

Stults (1-0) struck out three and walked two, throwing 86
pitches, and he also got his first major league hit. He was 10-11
with a 4.23 ERA this season at Triple-A Las Vegas, then allowed
three runs and five hits over three innings in his major league
debut Tuesday at Milwaukee.

"That helped a lot. That took a lot of the nervousness away,"
he said.

Stults' wife, 7½-month-old daughter, parents and in-laws all
were on hand to watch. He had spoken to his wife about the start
Saturday night.

"She was asking, 'Are you nervous?' I decided to kind of tell
her and tell myself that it's still baseball. You still have to go
out and execute pitches," he said.

Stults and Kuo spent much of the last few years together as they
both came back from elbow ligament replacement surgery.

"It was special watching Kuo go out and do what he did,"
Stults said. "That helped a little bit. He kept cheering me on
today."

There was a solemn ceremony before the game marking Monday's
fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but by the
sixth inning it resembled a spring training contest at Vero Beach
or Port St. Lucie, with both teams liberally substituting.

Trachsel (14-7) lost his second straight start after going 12-1
in an 18-start stretch from May 23 through Aug. 29.

After Trachsel retired his first six batters, Los Angeles loaded
the bases on three second-inning singles. Lofton, who had been
0-for-6 with the bases full this year, batted with one out and
worked the count to 3-2, then pulled a high fastball down the
right-field line.

His helmet flipped off as he rounded second and he easily made
it to third with a triple, then scored when Garciaparra singled
over third baseman David Wright with the infield in.

"It's something mechanical I'm doing, something that's causing
me to miss pitches or miss location," Trachsel said.

Perhaps putting his postseason starting spot in jeopardy, he
allowed four runs, five hits and two walks in 2 2/3 innings, with
his ERA rising to a season-high 5.17. Trachsel couldn't throw his
curveball for strikes.

"Every once in a while, he's going to have a bad one," Mets
manager Willie Randolph said. "I'm not concerned. He'll turn it
around."

Fans booed as Trachsel walked off the mound.

"I don't know how I looked, but I'm definitely not happy," he
said.

Rafael Furcal singled in a run in the fourth against Brian
Bannister, Wilson Betemit hit a sacrifice fly in the fifth and
Garciaparra made it 9-0 in the sixth with his 17th homer.

"At this point," Lofton said, "we have to just win."

Game notes
With a crowd of 48,760, New York raised its season home
attendance to 3,040,920, only its third time over 3 million and
first since drawing a record 3,047,724 in 1988. ... The Mets wore
caps honoring New York City policemen, firefighters, medical
workers and court officers, and Port Authority police. They planned
to wear the caps again Monday at Florida. ... Mets RHP Pedro
Martinez, sidelined since Aug. 14 because of a strained calf, will
start during the weekend series at Pittsburgh, possibly on Friday,
Randolph said. ... Julio Franco entered in the ninth and made his
first appearance at third base since Oct. 2, 1982, for Philadelphia
against the Mets. He became the 134th third baseman in Mets
history.