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IT'S TWO BAD FOR TOMKO PITCHER FALTERS AGAIN IN LOSS ATLANTA 9, DODGERS 3.

Byline: TONY JACKSON Staff Writer

ATLANTA -- There is a fine line, not to mention a vast psychological difference, between one bad start and two for a pitcher.

One bad start, and a pitcher can dip into his volume of cliches, promising to chalk it up, shake it off and turn the page. But two bad starts in a row, and that's when a pitcher's mind can begin to mess with him, when self-doubt can begin to creep in, when not only the pitcher himself but everyone around him can begin to wonder what's wrong.

Brett Tomko crossed that line Wednesday night in the Dodgers' 9-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves in front of 28,880 at Turner Field.

The Dodgers' right-hander, who fell behind too many batters on the way to getting pounded in his previous start, threw too many pitches into too many hitters' hot zones on the way to getting pounded again.

But while the underlying problem might have been different, the result was the same: a loss that cooled off the surging Dodgers for at least one evening and left them with a break-even road trip.

The Dodgers didn't figure to score much anyway against Atlanta ace Tim Hudson, who was rumored to be headed to Los Angeles twowinters ago before Oakland ultimately traded him to the Braves.

But Tomko, who admittedly was trying to be more aggressive to get ahead in counts, couldn't keep up with the Joneses. He gave up first-pitch, two-run home runs to Andruw Jones in the first inning and Chipper Jones in the third.

``Those are two pretty good hitters,'' Dodgers manager Grady Little said. ``If you put a ball up in the nitro zone, they're going to make something happen.''

That, and seven innings of domination by Hudson, ended any chance the Dodgers had of completing a three-game sweep of the 14-time defending National League East champs.

Tomko was gone after threeinnings.

``It was a weird game,'' Tomko said. ``I felt really good. I just think I was elevating the ball a little bit. It was one of those games where I was kind of shaking my head when I walked away, kind of wondering where everything went haywire.

``I have had a couple of bad games in a row. I have to get back on track.''

Tomko lasted just 4 2/3 innings at Washington last Friday, when the Nationals took advantage of numerous hitters' counts to torch him for six runs on nine hits, including four doubles and a triple. This time, he was done in more by the long ball -- and a dropped flyball on the warning track by rookie left fielder Andre Ethier that led to twomore runs in a five-run Atlanta third.

That turned a semi-manageable 5-0 deficit into a 7-0 hole. But it is worth noting that the final run, unearned though it might have been, came home on a balk by Tomko.

Over his past three starts -- including a shaky outing against the Angels on May 20 when he still battled through six innings and got a win -- Tomko (5-3) has a 9.88 ERA (15 runs, 13 2/3 innings). In his eight starts before that, it was 2.88.

The second-place Dodgers (30-23) lost for just the sixth time in their past 24 games and remained a half-game behind Arizona in the NLWest. They also completed a 3-3 trip, with all three losses coming by six-run margins and two of the three wins coming by at least five.

Dodgers infielder Ramon Martinez fouled a ball so hard off his left foot in the second inning that he had to leave in the fourth. Martinez is subbing for the injured Jeff Kent at second base, so the club might be forced to make a roster move if he can't go tonight.

tony.jackson@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3675

CAPTION(S):

2 photos, box

Photo:

(1) Atlanta's Chipper Jones, left, is congratulated by teammate Marcus Giles after hitting a two-run homer off Dodgers starter Brett Tomko in the third inning Wednesday.

(2) Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier fails to make a play on a flyball hit by Atlanta's Ryan Langerhans in the fifth inning.

John Bazemore/Associated Press

(3) LOWE

Box:

DODGERS vs. PHILADELPHIA

- Tony Jackson
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 1, 2006
Words:711
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