NEW YORK — Ted Lilly looked good in his return to the mound and Matt Kemp ended that home run drought. So it was shaping up as a positive night for the Los Angeles Dodgers — until the ninth inning.
Brandon League coughed up the lead with two outs and Josh Wall gave up a grand slam to Jordany Valdespin in the 10th as the Dodgers let one slip away in a 7-3 loss to the New York Mets on Wednesday.
Kemp hit his first homer of the year and drove in three runs to help Los Angeles grab a 3-1 lead against early sensation Matt Harvey. But the budding Mets ace was bailed out when his teammates rallied.
David Wright tied the game with a two-out single in the ninth off League, handed his first blown save in a Dodgers uniform.
“Definitely a tough one,” he said.
Lilly tossed five effective innings in his first start since shoulder surgery, giving the Dodgers’ injury-depleted rotation a boost.
The 37-year-old lefty allowed one run and struck out seven, wriggling out of two jams in his first big league outing since last May. The two-time All-Star opened 5-1 last season before he was sidelined by a shoulder injury that required surgery in September.
“First time out, pretty good. Yeah, really good. I thought he was sharp,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “That’s what Teddy does right there.”
But it wasn’t enough.
Valdespin, a late-inning substitute, hit his first career slam to complete a Mets comeback that saved Harvey from his first loss of the season.
Pinch-hitter Mike Baxter hustled for a leadoff double in the ninth when his sinking liner to left glanced off the wrist of a sliding Carl Crawford. Baxter advanced on Ruben Tejada’s sacrifice, and League had a chance to get out of it after third baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. crashed into the railing to make a spectacular catch on Daniel Murphy’s foul popup.
Wright, however, lined the next pitch to right-center for his first hit of the night.
“That’s why he’s David Wright. He’s phenomenal in those situations, and he came through,” Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said. “Probably a little bit higher in the zone than we probably would have liked, but all in all it was just a good swing on a pretty quality pitch.”
John Buck led off the 10th with a single against Wall (0-1), and Ike Davis walked on four pitches. Both runners moved up on Marlon Byrd’s sacrifice, and Lucas Duda was intentionally walked to load the bases.
With the Dodgers playing five infielders and two shallow outfielders, Valdespin drove a 2-1 pitch to right for the first game-ending RBI of his career.
“The problem, like today, is that we’ve used our bullpen a lot,” Mattingly said.
Bobby Parnell (1-0) worked around a leadoff walk in the 10th.
Kemp’s two-run shot off Harvey in the sixth, originally ruled a triple before a replay review, snapped a 1-all tie and ended the slugger’s drought of 86 at-bats dating to last season.
Harvey, who beat Washington phenom Stephen Strasburg last Friday, entered with a 0.93 ERA. He fanned seven in six innings against the Dodgers but failed in his bid to become the first five-game winner in the majors.
Harvey was cruising along until he walked Adrian Gonzalez on a full-count pitch with two outs in the sixth. Kemp drove a 2-0 fastball, clocked at 95 mph, toward the right-field corner where a security guard stationed at the foul pole tried to catch the ball just behind the wall.
The ball caromed off his hands and back onto the field as umpires ruled it in play and Kemp pulled into third base. But the umps went inside for a look at the replay and, after a 2½-minute delay, correctly called it a two-run homer that gave Los Angeles a 3-1 lead.
“I didn’t have my good fastball, so I knew I would be counting on everybody behind me.” Harvey said. “I was pretty happy with my changeup. Looking back, I wish I had used it more.”
A sacrifice fly by pinch-hitter Justin Turner pulled the Mets to 3-2 in the sixth.
Harvey doubled off the left-field fence leading off the fifth and scored the tying run when Tejada grounded a single just inside first base to snap an 0-for-18 slump.
One hit later, the Dodgers appeared to have trouble with the bullpen phone in their dugout — the second time that’s happened to a visiting team at Citi Field this season. Mattingly alerted the umpires, and Dodgers players mimed signals from the dugout.
In the end, a message was passed along from the infielders to the outfielders and then to the bullpen, with Hairston beginning the unusual relay — a major league game of Telephone.
Turned out, Lilly didn’t need any help yet. He struck out Wright looking, retired cleanup hitter John Buck on a fielder’s choice grounder and whiffed Davis with runners at the corners to keep the score tied.
Harvey was nicked for a first-inning run on Kemp’s RBI groundout.
NOTES: Crawford was rested ahead of Thursday’s matinee. Mattingly said he thought Skip Schumaker, who started in LF and batted leadoff, might be well-equipped to handle Harvey’s fastball. Crawford entered in a sixth-inning double switch. ... Mattingly said 3B Hanley Ramirez (right thumb surgery) threw much better than three days ago and could begin a minor league rehab assignment next week. “He’s getting close,” Mattingly said. “It was encouraging today.” ... Dodgers LHP Chris Capuano (strained left calf) was scheduled to throw a bullpen, but hadn’t started running yet. Mattingly said the Dodgers think Capuano will be ready to come off the disabled list — after one rehab start — when he’s eligible on May 2. ... To open a roster spot for Lilly, the Dodgers optioned catcher Tim Federowicz to Triple-A Albuquerque. ... Los Angeles had won five in a row at Citi Field.