Pena and Howell Deliver Again as Dodgers Win, 3-2

Times Staff Writer

Tom Lasorda’s daily trips from his Fullerton home to Dodger Stadium are considerably more pleasant this season, simply because the Dodger manager doesn’t have the same worries about his bullpen that he did a year ago.

“When I used to leave home and come to the ballpark,” Lasorda said, “I wouldn’t know for sure who in the bullpen I would go with. Now, I know.”

Saturday night, when starter Don Sutton tired in the sixth inning while protecting a one-run lead over the Philadelphia Phillies, Lasorda confidently called upon first Alejandro Pena and then Jay Howell. Each produced the desired result as the Dodgers nailed down a 3-2 victory before 47,379 fans at Dodger Stadium.


The win snapped a three-game losing streak and kept the Dodgers in first place in the National League West, 1 1/2 games in front of Houston. It also was the Dodgers’ first win in their last four games against left-handed starting pitchers. They got their 3 runs on 5 hits against loser Bruce Ruffin (3-3).

Had this been last season, Lasorda might have been fretting over the decision to lift his starter in the sixth inning with a two outs and a runner on first base. But this season, the only dilemma for Lasorda has been to decide which reliever to use.

Lasorda went first with Pena, who got Sutton off the hook from the sixth-inning predicament, and then pitched a scoreless seventh. Pena has allowed just 1 earned run in 16 innings, his only failure coming Wednesday night in Pittsburgh when he gave up a the game-winning run in the 11th inning.

Howell followed Pena’s success by retiring the side in the eighth and working out of a ninth-inning jam. The Phillies’ Chris James had a one-out single. One out later, he stole second and advanced to third on catcher Mike Scioscia’s throwing error. But Howell earned his third save--and the 10th for the Dodger staff--by striking out pinch-hitter Darren Daulton on a 2-and-2 curveball.

Beneficiary of the quality relief work was Sutton (3-2), who earned his third win in his last four starts. Sutton gave up 1 earned run and 8 hits in 5 innings to lower his earned-run average to 3.49.

When Sutton’s pitch count reached 87 in the sixth inning, Lasorda unflinchingly went to the bullpen. Even an appreciative Sutton couldn’t disagree with the move.

“Al Pena has just been unbelievable,” Sutton said. “And Jay and all the other guys have been excellent. You pretty much can bank on Fernando (Valenzuela) and Orel (Hershiser) going eight or nine innings.

“But with the other three (starters), when we get into the situation where it could cause us to lose, it’s got to be comforting to have these guys in the bullpen.”

It also must have been comforting to the Dodgers that they finally beat a left-handed starter after losing 5 of their previous 8 games against left-handers.

Saturday night, pitted against Ruffin, the Dodgers used creative methods to make the most of their six hits.

Although an offensive windfall did not come the Dodgers’ way against Ruffin (3-3), they scratched out just enough runs to support the good pitching of Sutton and the relievers.

They scored an unearned run in the second inning, using a passed ball and a well-placed ground-out by Mike Scioscia to take a 1-0 lead.

The next inning, the Dodgers broke a 1-1 tie in somewhat unconventional fashion. After consecutive singles by Steve Sax and Mike Davis, hot-hitting Kirk Gibson laid down a sacrificed bunt that nudged Sax to third and Davis to second.

“Gibson is so unselfish, he’ll get that runner to third any way he can,” Lasorda said. “He almost beat that bunt out.”

Sax then scored on Pedro Guerrero’s fly ball, and Davis scored the eventual winning run on Mike Marshall’s double in the right-center gap. Of the Dodgers’ five hits against Ruffin, Marshall’s was easily the hardest hit.

But the Dodgers had to be happy just to score three runs (one unearned) against the latest left-handed nemesis. In their previous three games against left-handers, the Dodgers totaled just 7 earned runs and 15 hits.

After the third-inning rally, the Dodgers did not get another hit off Ruffin, who was lifted for a pinch-hitter after six innings. They managed a ninth-inning single off reliever Greg Harris to finish the night with six hits--four fewer than the Phillies.

When it became clear the Dodgers were not going to build on their 3-2 lead, it was up to the bullpen to hold back the Phillies.

“Every time they give me the ball, I just try to do my job,” Pena said. “It’s going to be different this year, because we have a great bullpen. He could go with Jesse (Orosco), Howell (or Pena).”

Howell, coming off winter surgery to remove bone spurs from his right elbow, seemingly has bounced back quite effectively. He lowered his ERA to 2.25 while pitching two innings for the third time this season.

“I’m throwing better than last year,” said Howell, who had 15 saves before the All-Star break (and his injury) in Oakland last season. “I’ve got more control of my breaking stuff. I think being hurt (last season) made me stay away from throwing breaking balls. I was reluctant to throw them.

“Most of the time, I feel I’m a fastball pitcher. That was my dimension. If I get beat, I’d get beat with (the fastball). But now, my breaking ball, at times, is a better pitch.”

Dodger Notes

The Phillies stole five bases against Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia Saturday night. Four came while Don Sutton was pitching, and the fifth stolen base, in the ninth inning, was against Jay Howell. Scioscia did throw out Milt Thompson trying to steal in the seventh inning. . . . Phillie third baseman Mike Schmidt is mired in an 0-for-27 slump, and Sutton has a theory. “I’ve got to believe, having watched him over the years, that something’s bothering him,” Sutton said. “For Mike Schmidt to take the swings he did tonight and not juice the ball, well, maybe there’s an injury.”

Jeff Hamilton, who has served mainly as a late-inning defensive replacement for third baseman Pedro Guerrero, had his first hit in 13 at-bats in Friday night’s 2-1 loss to the Phillies, a pinch single in the sixth inning. Hamilton had been one of only four major league players who had yet to hit safely. “I needed that dunker (to left field),” Hamilton said. “I’m kind of surprised (Manager Tom Lasorda) used me. They usually wait to use me until the late innings (for defense). I’m glad he put me up there to pinch-hit.” . . . Hamilton did not play Saturday night.

Relief pitcher Tim Crews, who arrived from the Dodgers’ triple-A team in Albuquerque, N.M., Friday and pitched two scoreless innings later that night, said it was important to pitch well in his first outing. “You set the tone with an outing like that and then try to keep it up,” Crews said. “I know (Lasorda) has confidence in me from last year and (Friday night) reinforced that.”

Pitcher Brad Havens, who has until today to decide either to accept a demotion to Albuquerque or become a free agent and lose the balance of his $185,000 salary, threw in the bullpen several hours before the game.