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Dodgers Leave 15 Stranded in 7-5 Defeat

Times Staff Writer

Maybe sending Ken Howell to the mound for the third time in three days was trying to squeeze too much out of a good thing. Maybe Howell should have buried that 0-and-2 pitch to Phil Garner in the dirt in front of home plate, never rendering it as hittable as Garner found it to be.

Garner’s two-run double off Howell in the eighth inning erased a Dodger lead and paved the Houston Astros’ way to a 7-5 victory Saturday, but to blame the bullpen for this defeat is to tell only half the story.

One statistic tells the other half:

Dodger runners left on base--15.

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In one afternoon, the Dodgers put more runners on base (23) than they do in a week. The Dodger offense went through six Houston pitchers, equaled the team’s season-high in a game for most hits (17) and doubles (5), and had at least one base-runner in every inning.

They came away with just five runs--three on a pinch home run by Len Matuszek in the seventh inning.

Seldom has a team done so much to produce so little. If the Dodgers had as much luck cashing their paychecks, they’d starve.

“I hadn’t seen one like that for a long time,” Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda said. “You lose a game like that. . . .

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“We should have scored a lot of runs. . . . “

Lasorda’s voice kept trailing off, unable to finish off thoughts the way his hitters failed to finish off rallies. But then, all that extravagant waste, displayed before a crowd of 32,902 at Dodger Stadium, was difficult to comprehend.

The Dodgers not only stranded 15 runners, they also left 10 in scoring position and twice came up empty after loading the bases. Steve Sax reached base five times (two singles and three walks) but scored only once.

How they didn’t score, at a glance:

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First inning--With one run in and runners on first and second, Mike Marshall and Alex Trevino flied out.

Second inning--Reggie Williams doubled and moved no farther when Jerry Reuss and Mariano Duncan grounded out.

Third inning--Greg Brock struck out with the bases loaded.

Fourth inning--After Reuss doubled and took third on a wild pitch and after Sax walked, Franklin Stubbs flied to right.

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Fifth inning--Mike Scioscia grounded into a double play, then Brock singled and Ken Landreaux flied to right.

Sixth inning--Mike Marshall flied to center with the bases loaded.

Seventh inning--After Matuszek gave the Dodgers a 5-4 lead, Duncan and Sax were stranded at third and second when Stubbs struck out and Bill Madlock popped out.

Eighth inning--Scioscia grounded into another double play.

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Ninth inning--With runners on first and second, Sax lined into a double play.

Just like that, the Dodgers botched a major opportunity to win their third straight game from the National League West leaders and move within 3 1/2 games of first place.

“This game can be cruel sometimes,” Matuszek said, “and it was cruel to our club today.”

Because the Dodgers stranded 12 runners--seven in scoring position--during the first six innings, they trailed, 4-2, prompting Lasorda to pinch-hit for his starting pitcher, Reuss, in the bottom of the sixth. That brought on Alejandro Pena, and another pinch-hitter, in the seventh. And that brought on Howell for the third day in a row.

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Matuszek, the pinch-hitter for Pena, gave the Dodgers their first advantage with a three-run home run, his first homer of the season. Lasorda then asked Howell, who had allowed just four runs in his previous 36 innings, to protect it.

Howell’s 0.98 earned-run average took a hike. The first batter he faced, Billy Hatcher, singled, stole second and went to third when Scioscia threw his relay to second base into center field. After an out and two walks to load the bases, Howell worked the count to 0-and-2 to Garner.

Howell knew what he then had to do.

“You have to get that pitch in the dirt,” he said. “You have to get him to swing at it. You want him to make the mistake.”

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Howell’s pitch never got soiled. The ball touched the blue of the left-field fence first, resulting in a two-run double that returned the lead to the Astros.

Lasorda stayed with Howell another inning, and Howell relinquished another run. Bill Doran tripled, and a flared double by Hatcher brought him home.

The Astros, by contrast, fully exploited the depth of their bullpen. Five relievers were summoned in support of starter Mike Madden, who didn’t make it out of the fifth inning. Two--Aurelio Lopez (1-0) and Dave Smith--held the Dodgers scoreless over the final three innings.

Dodger Notes

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Jerry Reuss entered Saturday’s game with a four-game losing streak and an earned-run average of 10.50 in his last five appearances. He did not receive a decision after yielding four runs and five hits in six innings--and did not help his rather tenuous position in the Dodgers’ starting rotation. “I felt he should’ve pitched better than that,” Manager Tom Lasorda said. “I’m not satisfied with four runs. Location was one of his main problems.” . . . Houston Manager Hal Lanier exhausted his bullpen, using, in order of appearance, Larry Andersen, Frank DiPino, Charlie Kerfeld, Aurelio Lopez and Dave Smith. Lopez got the final two outs of the seventh inning to earn his first victory of the season, and Smith closed out the game for his 14th save.Kerfeld left the game in the seventh inning with a strained muscle in his right forearm. He is to be re-examined by the Astros’ team doctor today. . . . The Dodgers’ Fernando Valenzuela (8-3) opposes Mike Scott (5-4) in today’s series finale.


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