Gooden in Spotlights, Headlights

They were limbering up before the game, taking their rips, getting loose against the little left-hander who was tossing batting practice.

Frankie Sandoval was not going to be the toughest pitcher the Dodgers faced Friday night.

Doctor K from Shea was in L.A.

Dwight Gooden. The man with the golden arm. The thrower of flame. The amazin' Met.

"Come on, Frankie!" Orel Hershiser hollered from the batter's box after Sandoval's first offering. Hershiser would oppose Gooden in the game, and therefore would be obliged to bat against him. He wanted Sandoval to impersonate Gooden, to get him ready to face the man.

"Dwight Gooden won't be throwing left-handed!" Hershiser said.

Only kidding. He had been kidding for a couple of days about stepping in against Doctor K, whose 95-m.p.h. hummers had helped him post a lifetime record of 46-14 at the age of 21.

Hershiser had even joked that to prepare for Gooden, he was thinking about taking batting practice against a pitching machine and cranking its speed up to 300 m.p.h.

"Maybe we'd better get another truckload of sand in here," Hershiser said, raking the batter's box gravel with his toe. "We'd better be ready to dig in."

Len Matuszek, Dodger first baseman on the disabled list, leaned against the cage, waiting to take a few swings. Batting instructor Ben Hines was standing next to him.

"Planning any speeches to improve the guys' mental outlook for tonight?" Matuszek asked, smiling.

"Speeches won't do you any good against 95," Hines replied, referring to a certain pitcher's miles per hour.

But the Dodgers were prepared to take any edge they could get against Gooden, which is why they were both happy and lucky to score three runs against the guy and not become his 47th victim.

They got rid of him after eight innings, with the score tied, and went on to win, 4-3, in the 11th.

Gooden was going to be extra-tough. The Dodgers knew that. For one thing, Doctor K loses two games in a row about as often as Yogi Berra performs Shakespeare off-Broadway. And he lost last time out, lasting only five innings in a 3-2 defeat by Cincinnati at Shea Stadium.

"The way I feel about it is, somebody's gonna have to pay," Gooden warned future opponents after that one.

The Dodgers were up next. And they dug themselves a hole immediately by giving Gooden a 2-0 lead in the first inning, proving with two wild throws to first base that a little less time could have been spent on batting practice and a little more on infield practice.

Things looked bleak for the home team and the 49,139 customers in the house--at least for those of them who weren't braying the treasonable, "Let's Go, Mets!"--when they fell two runs behind.

But in the sixth inning, the Dodgers backed up the truck. Not the sand truck. A truck in the parking lot, in straightaway center field.

The score was 2-1 and there were two out, two on, two balls and two strikes on Greg Brock. The Dodger batter backed away from the plate. A truck, driven by a fan, suddenly could be seen through the gap in the outfield bleachers--and its fog lights were on.

Brock had no intention of trying to hit Gooden with somebody's brights in his face. The guy's fastballs were already tough enough.

So, the umpires called time. And Gooden had to wait. From 9:35 p.m. to 9:41, all he could do was meander around the mound, or lob warmup pitches to his catcher, Gary Carter.

Hard telling how much the delay rattled Gooden or disrupted his rhythm. But the instant play resumed, Brock cracked Gooden's next pitch for a two-run single that put the Dodgers ahead, 3-2.

The Mets managed to tie the game in the seventh but were not able to get Gooden his revenge for the loss to Cincinnati. And they were not able to get it because Orel Hershiser was out there doing a Dwight Gooden impersonation, striking out 10 Mets in nine innings of work.

Neither pitcher got a victory Friday night, except for the moral one of facing Gooden and not getting beat.

Hershisher had one other satisfaction--he got a hit off Gooden, an infield job in the fifth.

"What'd that ball go--15 feet?" he said afterward. "First time up, he threw me a curveball, and I said, 'Whoa! So that's what that looks like.' "

Any other impressions of Doctor K?

"He's outstanding. Wow, what else can you say?" Hershiser said. "If he stays healthy, he's going to break a lot of records."

And if you, Orel Hershiser, stay healthy?

"If I stay healthy? Then, I guess I'm going to be chasing him," Hershiser said.

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