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Mike Scott as Baffling as Always : Astro Ace Pitches Three-Hitter and Beats Dodgers, 3-2

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Times Staff Writer

Obsessed as the Dodgers may be with trying to prove that Mike Scott scuffs the baseball, they are not so single-minded as to suggest that the Houston Astros’ star pitcher is nothing more than just a fine craftsman at ball carving.

Saturday afternoon, in a nationally televised game, the Dodgers once again were first-hand witnesses to another masterpiece by the renowned split-fingered sorcerer.

Scott, who pitched a one-hit shutout against the Dodgers in April amid squawking about scuffing, threw a three-hitter Saturday as the Astros scratched out a 3-2 win before a crowd of 40,358 at the Astrodome. “I hate to say it,” Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda said, “but the guy’s an outstanding pitcher. I don’t care what people say.”

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Although the Dodgers were not as vehement in their protestations of alleged doctoring this time, they still kept looking and rubbing the baseballs as if they were crystal balls that held the answer to the Astros’ dominant pitcher.

At one point, after the baseball-checking ritual, Scott gestured to the Dodger dugout.

“It was after about the fourth time,” Scott said. “I held the ball out and looked at Tommy (Lasorda) and said, ‘You want to see it, too. I don’t know what he said, but I probably couldn’t repeat it to you if I had heard it.”

Afterward, Lasorda and his players still questioned the reasons why some of Scott’s pitches defied Newtonian principles of gravity. But they almost finally admitted that Scott is one of baseball’s premier pitchers.

“He’s tough even when his ball doesn’t move like that,” shortstop Dave Anderson said.

Actually, the Dodgers were not totally intimidated by Scott, who won his fourth straight game on Kevin Bass’ two-run home run in the sixth inning off Dodger starter Tim Leary, which erased a 2-1 deficit.

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Anderson hit Scott’s first pitch of the game over the left-field wall for a 1-0 lead. Then, in the fourth, Mike Marshall’s single scored Steve Sax, who had led off with a single, to give the Dodgers a 2-1 lead.

That was the sum total of the Dodger offense against Scott, who struck out 9 and walked 1 in improving his record to 9-3. In his last 31 innings, Scott has given up just 4 earned runs and 15 hits.

But the Dodgers did provide other entertaining action at the plate.

There were periodic checks of the baseball at the request of the hitters. Home plate umpire Dana DeMuth checked four balls and threw them back to Scott each time. Once, at the end of the fourth inning, Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia asked DeMuth to go out to the mound and check the ball. He did and replaced it.

When a Dodger player fouled off a pitch that rolled into the dugout in the third inning, the ball was passed among several Dodgers and closely inspected. After three Dodger at-bats, Anderson walked to the mound and looked at the ball before heading to his position.

In the eighth inning, after Anderson had struck out with Ken Landreaux, the tying run, on second, he dropped his bat and walked straight toward the mound. He looked down at the ball and then lightly brushed the dirt with his foot in exasperation.

No need to ask the Dodgers if they were frustrated.

“(Scott) pitched an outstanding game, as usual,” Anderson said with a shrug. “And, as usual, we had the umpires check the balls, but all he did was throw them back (to Scott).

“It’s the same stuff. We think some of the balls are scuffed. But after a while, when they keep throwing them back, you know they aren’t going to do anything. Hopefully, it’ll put something in their minds for the next time.” Scott presented the theory Saturday that the Dodgers are checking balls simply for the sake of distraction. As an example, Scott brought up Pedro Guerrero’s fourth-inning ball-check on what appeared to be a fastball with no unusual movement.

“I think they are getting a directive from the dugout on whether to check it,” Scott said. “When a straight fastball gets checked, you wonder why.” Said Lasorda: “What happens is the hitters see his balls react funny and they want it checked. They are the ones who see them.”

Guerrero, who went 0 for 4 Saturday, said: “That ball just moved away from me at the last minute. That’s why I checked it.”

Scott also said that, when Sax asked for a ball-check in the sixth, Guerrero stood up on the dugout railing and yelled at him.

“I didn’t really hear what he said,” Scott said. “Tell those guys that they are going to have to get a megaphone next time if they want me to hear them.”

Maybe someone should check the Dodger bats for marks or scuffs. There could not have been many the last two games; the Dodgers totaled just four runs.

Anderson’s first home run of the season was the Dodgers’ major power surge of the afternoon, although Marshall’s line-drive single scoring Sax in the fourth was well hit.

“I think that’s the best way to hit him--get him early,” Anderson said. “With this guy, you got to try to be aggressive. Once you get behind this guy, it’s tough.”

The Dodgers’ only baserunner after the fourth inning was pinch-hitter Landreaux, who walked and stole second with two out in the eighth. But Anderson took a called third strike.

Leary (1-3), making his third start since becoming the fifth man in the rotation, pitched his best game yet. He gave up only six hits in seven innings, but two were home-run balls.

Billy Hatcher jumped on a hanging curve in the third and sent it over the left-field wall, tying the game, 1-1. Then, after Leary walked Glenn Davis, Bass hit his home run off a high fastball in the sixth to give the Astros a 3-2 lead.

Three runs usually are too many to allow when Scott is pitching. In his four previous starts, Scott had given up a total of three runs. Even if they have to stand around whenever teams ask umpires to inspect the balls, the Astros obviously are willing to endure the wait.

“I think all this checking the ball thing is just a ploy to try to rattle Scott,” Bass said. “They feel they are getting to him. It’s just a mental thing. But Mike is a professional. It won’t bother him.”

Dodger Notes

The player the Houston Astros will receive in Friday’s Phil Garner trade with the Dodgers reportedly is Jeff Edwards, a Dodger Triple-A pitcher who was drafted by the Astros from the Dodgers in the winter. Edwards, bothered by a strained left biceps, was reclaimed by the Dodgers in May. He has a 2-1 record and a 6.08 earned-run average in Albuquerque. Astros General Manager Dick Wagner told one Houston newspaper that the club has until Oct. 1 to decide whether to take the player.

Pedro Guerrero is suffering through his first slump of the season. He has just 6 hits in his last 27 at bats. Said Guerrero: “Something’s wrong, I know. Maybe I’m just trying too hard. It won’t last forever, I guarantee that, too.” . . . The Dodgers’ last four losses--two in San Diego and two of three in Houston--have all been by one run. “We’ll start to get it going,” Manager Tom Lasorda said. “We’ll start getting those base hits when we need them.” Told by a reporter that this pattern has gone on for two months, Lasorda retorted: “Why think of it negative? I believer we’re going to turn it around.”

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