Lasorda Takes a Gamble and Has Last Smile

Times Staff Writer

Tom Lasorda came striding up the runway from the visitors' dugout in Veterans Stadium Sunday afternoon, fanning himself with his cap.

And well he should, after leaving himself open to a major second-guessing session by bringing in Ken Howell to relieve Fernando Valenzuela with Valenzuela holding a two-run lead and working on a three-hitter.

Howell gave Lasorda something to squirm about, too, before recording his fifth save in the Dodgers' 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies that broke a four-game losing streak.

Howell walked the bases loaded in the eighth before striking out the Phillies' most dangerous hitter, Von Hayes, on three pitches to close out the inning.

He then gave up Mike Schmidt's fifth home run to start the ninth and put the tying run on base by walking Ozzie Virgil before striking out the last three Phillies, including pinch-hitter Greg Gross, who merely batted .706 (12 for 17) against the Dodgers last season.

If the Dodgers' lead hadn't survived, it's likely Lasorda's postgame meal wouldn't have, either.

"He'd have been eating it off the wall," said Bill Russell, the Dodgers' surprise entry among the league's top 10 hitters this spring.

Russell, who replaced Mariano Duncan at short after the rookie made two errors in Saturday's loss, tripled and scored the Dodgers' first run on Ken Landreaux's triple in the first. Russell also raised his batting average to .315, but laid no claim on the position that had been his for more than a decade.

"Mariano's struggling a little bit--it was good to let him watch today," Russell said. "But Tommy wants to keep him out there as much as possible. We're looking to the future, and in order to do that you've got to play guys like Mariano as part of the unit, in order to develop the cohesion of a championship ballclub.

"And every now and then I can come off the bench and spell him, which is good. By spotting me, Tommy can get a lot of mileage out of me."

While Lasorda got some extra miles out of Russell, Greg Brock found inspiration in Sid Bream, newly arrived after being recently departed. Bream, recalled from Albuquerque when Al Oliver went on the disabled list, arrived at the stadium as Valenzuela was taking the mound in the bottom of the first.

One of the first things Bream did was talk to Brock, the man responsible for Bream being back in the minors.

Bream's presence must have inspired Brock. In the fourth, Brock--who had just two hits in his previous 15 at-bats--drove a Charles Hudson breaking ball over the right-field wall for his second home run of the season.

Said Brock after the game: "Way to go, Sid."

Brock's home run was one of two Dodger home runs off Hudson, who in his last start pitched a one-hitter for eight innings, then refused to shake hands with Manager John Felske after Felske lifted him for a pinch-hitter in the ninth.

The other Dodger home run, which accounted for the deciding run, was hit by Mike Marshall, his seventh of the season, in the sixth inning. Both Dodger home runs, naturally, came with the bases empty.

While Valenzuela may have accepted congratulations from Lasorda, he was in no mood to talk to reporters even though he evened his record at 4-4.

"I don't want to talk today," said Valenzuela, who had given up a run in the fourth when Hayes' blooper missed Landreaux's glove for a double and Virgil singled him home.

That was it for the Phillies until the eighth, when Valenzuela walked John Wockenfuss, hitting .118 at the time, and gave up a pinch single to John Russell, who had been pounding the ball at a .152 clip.

That was enough for Lasorda. He signaled for Howell, who had struck out the side in Friday night's loss.

"I just thought Fernando, who has been pitching his heart out, who pitches every inning with everything he has, it was best to get him out of there," said Lasorda, which was his way of saying what Mike Scioscia said with a lot less melodrama.

"He was definitely tired," Scioscia said. "And I think he realized it, too."

Howell appeared to have rewarded Lasorda's confidence when he induced Juan Samuel to pop out for the inning's second out. But then he walked Tim Corcoran on four pitches to fill the bases and bring up Hayes, who had a 14-game hitting streak.

Howell, figuring Hayes was looking for some heat, started him with two sliders. Hayes swung and missed them both. Then Howell blew the fastball by him, and one crisis was over.

Schmidt blasted a 2-and-1 fastball to start the ninth and Crisis No. 2, which Howell compounded by walking Virgil.

With Glenn Wilson, the team's RBI leader with 25 at the plate, the Phillies eschewed the bunt. Howell went to 3 and 1 on Wilson, then relocated the plate. Three strikeouts later, Howell had his save and a total of 32 K's in 25 innings.

"When Kenny got Wilson for that first out, it looked like he got his confidence back," Brock said. "We were breathing easier with every pitch after that."

That's all that kept Lasorda's face from turning as blue as his uniform.

"I don't even want to think about it now," Lasorda said. "I almost had a heart attack."

Dodger Notes The game was momentarily held up in the ninth inning when a baby bird wandered onto the field behind home-plate umpire Harry Wendelstedt. Wendelstedt tried to scoop the bird up with his cap and failed; catcher Mike Scioscia tried to catch it with his glove, also unsuccessfully. Finally, a groundskeeper came out with a bucket and carried it off. And where had the bird come from? Jay Johnstone, naturally. "The way we've been playing, we've been so boring you've got to do something to have fun," said Johnstone, who found the bird by the Dodger dugout before the game, coaxed it into his cap, and turned it over to stadium groundskeepers. The bird was unable to fly. When someone asked Johnstone why he hadn't given it to one of the Dodger trainers, he replied: "We already have nine guys on the disabled list. You think I'm going to turn this bird over to him?" . . . With a .114 batting average, Sid Bream's name may have been listed last in the National League averages in the Sunday papers, but he returned to the Dodgers ranking second on the team in home runs (3) and RBIs (6). He also came prepared to play some outfield, as he did in Albuquerque. "I had a good time playing out there," Bream said. "And now I have two positions. They can't say I can't play the outfield anymore." To the suggestion that perhaps he should stay a while, Bream said: "I'm with you. I have no idea what's going on or why it's going this way. But I'll tell you what, I've had a tough time finding apartments. I moved into one on Friday and the next day I got the word (that he had been recalled)."

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