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Dodgers Bounce Back Against Reds : Gibson Has Winning RBI, Howell Earns 20th Save in 4-3 Victory

Times Staff Writer

In recent, less prosperous seasons, handing over a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning to the Dodger bullpen was enough to send Manager Tom Lasorda searching for relief of another kind, antacid.

Those days appear to be gone now. So, when the situation arose Saturday night against the Cincinnati Reds, after Kirk Gibson’s ninth-inning single had given the Dodgers a 4-3 lead, Lasorda simply summoned short reliever Jay Howell and watched as Howell once again nailed down a Dodger victory.

This time, Howell retired the Reds in order, giving the Dodgers a commanding 8-game lead over the second-place Houston Astros with 15 to play, and earning his 20th save.

Twenty saves is a milestone to anyone in a Dodger uniform. The last Dodger reliever to reach that mark was Terry Forster, who had 22 in 1978.

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It was special to Howell, who had 29 saves for Oakland in 1985 but who came to the Dodgers in December as a major question mark after having arthroscopic elbow surgery.

“He told me at the press conference when we (traded for) him that he was going to save a lot of games,” Lasorda said. “Twenty is a lot. It’s not 40, like (Minnesota’s Jeff) Reardon or (Oakland’s Dennis) Eckersley have got, but it’s a hell of a lot compared to what we have had around here.”

In the victory over the Reds, the Dodgers displayed ingenuity, resiliency and relief pitching--several reasons for their startling turnaround after two consecutive losing seasons. And they bounced back after being victimized by Tom Browning’s perfect game Friday night.

Despite an atypical poor outing by starter Tim Leary and even though their offense is still in semi-slumber, the Dodgers used Alfredo Griffin’s daring baserunning, Gibson’s timely hit and the productive relief corps to move closer to clinching the West title.

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After Leary lost a 3-2 Dodger lead in the sixth inning, the bullpen kept the Dodgers in the game until the offense finally brought home a runner in scoring position.

Against Red left-hander Rob Murphy in the ninth, Griffin drew only his 20th walk of the season. Steve Sax’s sacrifice bunt moved Griffin to second base, and acting on his own, Griffin stole third. That set up Gibson’s one-out single to right, a looping liner hit off the end of the bat.

In the bottom of the ninth, Howell, who had earned a save in his most recent appearance Tuesday, got Nick Esasky to line to shortstop. Then Jeff Reed and Ron Oester grounded to first base to end it.

Jesse Orosco had pitched one inning of scoreless relief to earn the victory, and he allowed the only hit of the four relievers who were used. The Dodger bullpen has allowed only 4 earned runs in its last 54 innings. With a combined 44 saves, the bullpen is only 3 away from surpassing the club record for most saves in a season.

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Howell has been particularly impressive, especially lately. The hard-throwing right-hander has not allowed a run in his last 16 innings, spanning 10 games. Coincidentally, the last time Howell allowed a run--and blew a save opportunity--was at Riverfront Stadium on Aug. 11.

“I knew you were going to bring that game up,” Howell said, when approached by reporters. “That was a nightmare. I’m glad it didn’t happen again tonight. I had a lot of confidence that it wouldn’t happen again.

“It’s just a feeling we can win close games. Anything we have to do we’ll do, whether it’s getting a guy on base in the ninth and moving him around, getting the big hit or using the bullpen.”

Howell said his 20-save milestone is special to him because it is proof of his recovery from the surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow.

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“I put a lot of hard work into my rehabilitation after the surgery, and I didn’t know how I would recover,” Howell said. “I feel pleased with 20, but I’m not satisfied. I want to keep pitching and helping us win.

“Twenty saves may be the thing people look at, but the other guys in the bullpen have been great, really good at getting me (in the position) to get them. This is as good a bullpen as I’ve seen.”

Outstanding pitching--starting or relieving, and often both--has masked continued deficiencies of the Dodger offense. Saturday night, the Dodgers produced nine hits off four Red pitchers, the most since Aug. 31. In the last six games, the Dodgers are hitting .192.

If Saturday is any indication, though, the Dodgers may be ready to emerge from this offensive malaise. Sax, who was 2 for 24 coming into the game, went 2 for 4. John Shelby, who was hitless in his previous 11 at-bats, had a two-run single in the first inning. Griffin, who was 0 for 7 in the last three games, singled and scored in the first inning, then walked and scored the winning run in the ninth on Gibson’s single.

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“We really didn’t play well tonight,” Gibson said. “We made a lot of mistakes, left guys on base. We’ve played terrible recently. But we’re a scrappy team. We fight you. We seem to rise to every occasion. Offensive production doesn’t matter. It’s wins, wins, wins.

“I wouldn’t mind having that ‘winning ugly’ label the White Sox had a few years ago, because that means we’re winning.”

The only numbers the Dodgers are concerned about now are in the standings, where it seems that, barring a major collapse, they will win the West.

“This was a big, big win for us tonight,” Lasorda said. “We picked up a game each on Houston and Cincinnati. A big, big win. We did what we had to do to win it.”

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Dodger Notes

Dodger starter Tim Leary (17-9) did not get a decision Saturday night after he pitched five-plus innings and gave up three earned runs. If Leary hopes to join Orel Hershiser as the second Dodger pitcher with 20 victories, he will have to win each of his remaining three starts. Pitching coach Ron Perranoski, on why Leary was replaced after he gave up the third run in the sixth inning: “I just didn’t think he was as sharp as usual.” . . . Alfredo Griffin on his surprise steal of third base in the ninth inning, which enabled him to score on Kirk Gibson’s single: “I did it on my own. I just made the decision. I wanted to make things happen. If I mess up, I mess up. If I’m on second base on that ball Gibson hits, I don’t score.” . . . Cincinnati pitcher Tom Browning, who pitched a perfect game against the Dodgers on Friday night, was honored by owner Marge Schott in a pregame ceremony. Schott also presented Browning’s wife, Debbie, with a mink coat as a gift. “It really didn’t sink in until about 4 a.m. last night, when I’m sitting at home thinking about what I did,” Browning said. . . . Walking from the rain-drenched dugout to the clubhouse after Friday night’s game, Manager Tom Lasorda slipped and fell down several stairs. He complained of back and elbow pain.


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