Giants Hold Up Dodgers : Rookie Pitcher Shuts Out L.A., Delays Celebration
Anticipated for days, the Dodgers’ celebration for clinching the National League West title was postponed again Sunday. Once more, baseball caps had yet to be exchanged for party hats, and champagne showers were replaced by cold ones in the clubhouse. The Dodgers’ 2-0 loss to rookie pitcher Dennis Cook and the San Francisco Giants before 40,743 at Candlestick Park, coupled with another Cincinnati Reds victory, left the Dodgers still one game from clinching the division title.
Dodger players are not worried, they insist. Not with a 7-game lead over the Reds with 7 to play. When they mention the word playoff , it is in the context of meeting the New York Mets for the pennant, not a one-game playoff with the Reds.
Rick Dempsey, the 39-year-old catcher who has seen a lot of unusual happenings in his career, said that these things aren’t always routine.
“You always got it in the back of your mind until you win it,” Dempsey said. “Look at what Toronto did last year. Seven games up (3 1/2 games up, actually with 7 left), and they couldn’t do it.”
Neither Dempsey nor any other Dodger is suggesting that a similar scenario will happen in this case. The Dodgers seem determined to wrap up the title tonight against the Padres in San Diego, when Fernando Valenzuela makes his first start since July 30. They also could win it if the Giants beat the Reds in San Francisco.
“Today was nothing monumental,” Dempsey said shortly after reminiscing about the Blue Jays’ collapse. “There’s a long way to go for us to win one or Cincinnati to lose one. We’ve just got to keep pressing hard and not take anything for granted.”
Maybe the Dodgers’ problem Sunday was that they were pressing too hard, that they wanted to clinch the title with their own victory, as opposed to a Red loss, that it worked against them.
The Dodgers knew by the third inning Sunday that the Reds had won for the seventh straight time, but they could not mount much of an offense against the left-handed Cook, who pitched a 2-hitter in just his third major league start.
Dodger pitcher Tim Belcher, who said he wanted the Reds to lose so that the Dodgers could celebrate on the Candlestick Park turf, gave up a run in the third inning after a two-out to Cook and a run in the sixth on 3 singles and a two-base fielding error by center fielder John Shelby.
“I may be a little selfish,” Belcher said. “I was hoping the Reds would win, so I’d be part of it, and so the team could jump up and down on the field. It’s just not the same watching it on TV when you clinch.”
Belcher, a rookie, was not alone in those feelings. Even veteran second baseman Steve Sax said he wanted the Reds to win Sunday.
“I’m not going to pull for the Reds anymore, though,” Sax said. “I did because I wanted us to win. But now, enough’s enough.”
Added Mickey Hatcher: “I think everybody wanted Cincinnati to win. I’d really want to win it on the field, because it would be more exciting. Hopefully, we’ll get this over soon, because I don’t know how much longer they can keep (the champagne) cold.”
When Manager Tom Lasorda was told that some of his players were rooting for the Reds, his eyes widened and he dropped his fork.
“Who are those guys?” Lasorda yelled mockingly. “Give me their names. I want to get their heads examined.”
Heads of Dodger hitters were shaking when evaluating Cook’s performance. After finishing the triple-A season in Phoenix on Sept. 9, Cook returned to Austin, Tex., and a job as a waiter at a friend’s restaurant when the Giants recalled him. Since then, he is 2-0 with a 0.99 earned-run average.
Cook may be the only waiter Lasorda would dislike. The only Dodger hits Sunday were a first-inning single from Sax and third-inning double by Tracy Woodson. After that, though, Cook retired 19 of the last 21 batters he faced. He walked 1 and struck out 7.
“He threw very well,” said Hatcher, who went 0 for 4. “He had a good slider, down and in, and a great changeup. He has this one pitch, where he looks like he’s falling down. But it works.”
It was not as if Belcher (11-6) fell on his face in perhaps the most important start of his brief career. Except for two lapses, he was as dominating as in his previous start, a shutout of the Houston Astros.
In the third, Belcher had two out but walked Cook on five pitches. Singles by Brett Butler and Donell Nixon brought in Cook for, it turned out, the only run the pitcher would need.
“I was cruising, and then I walk the pitcher,” Belcher said. “It was a total lack of concentration. It’s inevitable, when you walk (the pitcher), they score. I got the first two outs, and then I spaced out. I got brain cramp.”
Maybe that was the same thing that happened to Shelby in the sixth inning when he allowed Will Clark’s single to bounce under his glove and between his legs, enabling Clark to advance to third on the two-base error. Mike Aldrete scored Clark with a single under the glove of diving third baseman Jeff Hamilton. It turned out to be an earned run because Ernest Riles then singled.
The Giants, who lost the first two games of the series, seemed relieved that they did not have to witness an on-field Dodger celebration.
“You know it’s going to happen,” Giant Manager Roger Craig said. “But you don’t want to see it before your fans at your park.”
Clark remembered the last time the Giants watched another team clinch the West. It was in 1986, when the Astros’ Mike Scott pitched a no-hitter against the Giants.
“I made the last out that day, and I had trouble making it out of there with everybody running around,” Clark said. “It was important for us to win. I didn’t want it to happen again.”
A few more Dodger losses and Red wins, though, and the Dodgers might wind up clinching the title against the Giants, after all. At Dodger Stadium this weekend.
“I hope my start doesn’t come around again before we clinch it,” said Belcher, managing a slight smile.
Catcher Mike Scioscia, who bruised his left hip in a collision with San Diego’s John Kruk last Thursday, took batting practice Sunday while wearing a padded hip guard. Scioscia said he hoped to return to the lineup soon. “I still have pain, but I should be all right,” Scioscia said. “I haven’t talked to Tommy yet but, if I’m needed, I can play. I’d like to play a couple innings in every game once we clinch it.”