What Niedenfuer Needs Is Fewer Days Like the Last Two

Those fans, they can be so cruel.

When Tom Niedenfuer gave up a two-out, ninth inning home run to little Timmy Flannery Sunday afternoon to lose the ballgame and the weekend to the hated San Diego Padres, the Dodger Stadium fans booed enthusiastically.

Or were they just saying "O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!" at the sight of little Tim's amazing long ball? It was the 5-foot, 11-inch, 176-pounder's third homer of the season, matching his career season high.

One departing fan said to his buddies, "They're going to pitch Niedenfuer on the Fourth of July so they can have fireworks flying over the fence."

And a stadium security guard said, "They've found a job for Niedenfuer--he'll be a great batting practice pitcher."

A tough crowd, these Dodger fans. They'll turn on you in a minute.

Actually, they haven't been too sweet on Niedenfuer since the fireworks on Jack Clark Day at Dodger Stadium last Oct. 6.

And this has been a rough week for Buff, as his teammates call Niedenfuer.

Last Tuesday night he helped the Dodgers blow a lead and a game in Atlanta. The next night he saved the game for Fernando Valenzuela, then took two nights off, then helped blow another lead and another game to the Padres Saturday night, giving up three hits, including a two-run homer to Terry Kennedy, who now has six on the season.

Then came Sunday, and, with two outs in the ninth, the homer to Flannery, a 400-foot triple to Tony Gwynn and a shower.

Niedenfuer is 6-5 and 230, and he is supposed to saw the bat out of the hands of flea-weights such as Flannery, and other recent undersized tormentors. That's Buff's job. For a while there, he seemed to be coming back to his old overpowering self. Then, this week. . . . I think it's safe to say Niedenfuer didn't enjoy the week. After the game he sat glumly at his locker, staring a hole in his street clothes.

"I don't want to talk today," he said.

"How about later?"

"What can I say?" Niedenfuer said. "You saw it. The ball's out of the park, the game's over, and that's about all there is to say. OK? Thank you."

I couldn't have said it better.

To give you an idea of how the Dodgers were taking the weekend sweeping by the Padres, Niedenfuer was one of the happiest and chattiest guys in the locker room. It was real quiet in there. The water cooler gurgling sounded like Niagara Falls. You could have heard Flannery's bat drop.

Even Manager Tom Lasorda, whose door is always open, mysteriously and uncharacteristically disappeared for about 20 minutes after the game, possibly to huddle with his coaches and see if any of them had an ideas on how to hold big leads and not give up home runs and triples to little guys.

"It's unfortunate he's gone back to the home run ball again," Lasorda said when he emerged. "Like I said before, he's throwing the ball in the wrong locations, that's the answer for it.

"Unfortunately, he (Niedenfuer) got the ball up. With two outs, you don't figure on a home run in that situation. This guy hits a home run, it just makes you wonder."

It makes you wonder about the fact that of the 31 baserunners Niedenfuer has inherited this season, 17 have scored. It makes you wonder if the Dodgers can play above .500 without a top-gun stopper coming out of the 'pen.

Not that Buff is the only Dodger goat. The Dodgers have been finding lots of creative ways to lose games. Six errors in one night, that kind of thing.

Still, the way it works in baseball these days is that you set everything up, hang on to a lead, then you come in with your monster out of the bullpen in the eighth or ninth. He blows people down and you win. Or he doesn't and you don't.

Sunday afternoon it was Little Tim 1, Big Buff 0. Game, set and match to the Padres.

Flannery wasn't surprised to see the high fastball.

"They've been getting me out all weekend with high, inside fastballs," Flannery said. "I just adjusted. I was guessing out there. I was trying maybe to hit a double. I don't go for home runs, I don't know how to do it."

Pressed for details about the pitch, Flannery smiled and said: "To tell you the truth, in a situation like that, I kind of zone out. All I know is I swang and I saw it go in the seats. It felt good, it felt real good."

NIEDENFUER: HAUNTED BY THE HOME RUN

Last year Dodger relief pitcher Tom Niedenfuer gave up only 6 home runs during the regular season in 106 innings. Already, this season, Niedenfuer has given up 9 in only 43 innings.

Date Opponent Player Score 6/22 San Diego Tim Flannery L 5-4 6/21 San Diego Terry Kennedy L 8-7 6/1 Pittsburgh Jim Morrison L 12-3 5/27 New York George Foster L 8-1 5/23 Philadelphia Mike Schmidt L 8-2 5/13 St. Louis Jerry White W 6-5 5/6 Chicago Leon Durham L 7-6 4/27 Atlanta Rafael Ramirez W 7-4 4/26 Atlanta Omar Moreno L 5-4

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