Tom Lasorda is still beating the tom-tom for Tom Niedenfuer. Niedenfuer gave up another game-winning home run Sunday--this one to light-hitting Tim Flannery--but Lasorda still stands behind his man.
"He still has good stuff," Lasorda said in between phone calls in his office. "He's just throwing the ball in the wrong location. That's the answer to it."
Niedenfuer, sitting trance-like at his locker, would not discuss it.
He blurted: "No, not today. What can I say? He hit the ball out of the ballpark. You can write what you want. The game's over."
The final was 5-4, and it provided San Diego's first series sweep of the Dodgers since June, 1983. And since the Padres aren't allowed beer at home, they drank up on the road. Even Tony Gwynn drank a brew, and he never does. Flannery--nicknamed Biceps for some reason--sat very un-trancelike at his locker, screaming: "Goodby, Mr. Spalding!"
And hello San Francisco. The Padres overcame a 4-0 deficit on Sunday, a 5-0 deficit on Saturday and a 2-0 deficit on Friday and now get to play the first-place Giants. Gwynn, who once played college basketball at San Diego State and admits baseball can be a boring game, went haywire.
"We got down, but we didn't quit," he said. "We got in their bullpen, and knocked their bullpen around. By far, this was our best series of the season. Our goal was to take two out of three, and when we fell behind 4-0, we could've said: 'Hey, we accomplished our goal. Let's get out of town.' But we didn't.
"We've been a different ballclub on this road trip. High fives, low fives, chatter. I know this is a long season, and we were tired after last night (a 14-inning night game), but, man, we played hardball in this series. God, this feels good. The way we scuffled? Man, we played hardball, and I tell you, I had fun. Can't you tell by my voice? This is the way baseball should be. Hopefully, we'll go to San Francisco, and do some more high fives. And I thought basketball was fun!"
Bob Welch had most of the fun early. Going for his first victory since April 30 (10 starts ago), he pitched four shutout innings. In the process, he recorded his 1,000th strikeout (Garry Templeton), the 11th Dodger to do so.
The crowd of 42,236 got up for a standing ovation, and when Welch got back to his locker later, the game ball was in a paper bag for him. The bag read: "1,000th K."
The Dodgers KO'd Padre starter Mark Thurmond after four innings. Rookie Craig Shipley--just called up from Albuquerque--grounded out with a man on third in the second inning and got the first RBI. Shipley's the first Australian to play in the major leagues, and when he found out Saturday night he was coming to the big leagues, he phoned home to Australia.
"It was 4 o'clock in the afternoon for them," he said. "You know, it's a 16-hour time difference."
The third inning was something different. It was the Padres, not the Dodgers, who bungled on defense, committing two errors that led to three unearned Dodger runs.
But Welch suddenly got in trouble in the fifth. Terry Kennedy lined a single to left, and Marvell Wynne bunted one down third that third baseman Bill Russell wanted to let roll foul.
Welch then walked pinch-hitter Jerry Royster, loading the bases. Flannery scored a run with a sacrifice fly, and then consecutive singles by Gwynn and John Kruk made it 4-3.
In the eighth, Graig Nettles singled, and was replaced by pinch-runner Bip Roberts, a rookie. Welch nearly picked Roberts off, but Roberts then stole second on catcher Alex Trevino.
Templeton poked an RBI single to center, tying the game.
So Lasorda had to pinch hit for Welch in the bottom of the eighth.
Niedenfuer walked in, head down, from the bullpen to the sound of boos to start the ninth.
He got two quick outs. Then, Flannery, who had two singles earlier in the game, hit his first pitch to deep right.
Flannery has eight career home runs.
Flannery, who's listed at 5-11 but admits he's smaller, had an ice pack around his left ankle after the game.
"Oh, I have a bone bruise from playing on Astroturf," he said.
"That's my third homer," Flannery said. "I'm one ahead of last year, one ahead of my quota. . . . I watched it go. And I ran slowly. Slowest I've ever run. Usually, I sprint. My foot hurt."
Gwynn hit Niedenfuer's very next pitch, banging a triple to deep center. Lasorda finally came to get Niedenfuer, who stared plainly into space, acknowledging neither his manager nor his catcher. Lasorda asked for the ball and patted him on the rear end.
Niedenfuer walked straight toward the dugout, his head down but his chin not touching his chest, at least. He grabbed his warmup jacket and walked for the clubhouse. Ken Landreaux and Len Matuszek were the only players to touch him, to reassure him.
"You know they're are times guys don't want to hear anything," Matuszek said. "But if you can at least let them know you share in their tough times . . ."
In the bottom of the ninth, the Dodgers tried tying it off reliever Craig Lefferts. Steve Sax singled, but Russell hit into a double play. Roberts and Templeton--the double play combination--touched fingers to celebrate. Then Enos Cabell doubled, but Mike Marshall grounded out to end it.
Flannery, asked if he felt sorry for Niedenfuer, said: "Hey, I don't think he was feeling for me when they were in the playoffs last year. This was great . . . Goodby, Mr. Spalding!"
The new faces Sunday were Ed Amelung and Craig Shipley. The hurt faces belonged to Dave Anderson and Mariano Duncan. Anderson broke his right pinky trying to bunt Saturday night. "I knew it was bad as soon as it happened," Anderson said. "I got it square on the pinky, and when (trainer) Charlie (Strasser) got out there, it was already swollen. When I got my batting glove off, it was pretty ugly. It's the first thing I've ever broken in all my years, football included. I played college football at Memphis State. Did I play a lot? No, I practiced a lot." Anderson's finger was set at the hospital Saturday, and he won't need surgery. He is out six weeks. Duncan, meanwhile, still was limping around Sunday on his sprained left ankle, but he is expected to play soon. "He's close, real close," trainer Bill Buhler said. . . . So with Anderson and Greg Brock (left knee) on the disabled list, Amelung and Shipley were brought up from Albuquerque. Immediately, Shipley was inserted at shortstop, Bill Russell taking third base. Regular third baseman Bill Madlock--whose had sore legs and hasn't been able to push off correctly when throwing--developed a sore right shoulder and couldn't play Sunday. His status is day-to-day.
Jerry Reuss went 6 innings Saturday night, his second longest outing of the year. He still isn't sure, though, whether he impressed his coaches enough to get back in the starting rotation. "Well, that's not my decision to make," he said. "I've made it clear around here for years that I feel I'm a starting pitcher, not a relief pitcher. But I don't make the decisions. . . . It's not my place to do that. I give my opinions when asked. And the others who make the decisions are paid and paid quite well to make them--right or wrong."