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Mets Are Victims of Hatcher’s Latest, Best Practical Joke

The straw that stirred the Dodgers’ drink Wednesday night, the hero who saved the Big Blue from near extinction and embarrassment, is a gray-haired journeyman who waddles when he runs, leads the team in funny hats and sits around the clubhouse almost begging for a chance to play.

“I was kind of moping around the locker room tonight before batting practice,” Mickey Hatcher said, “saying, ‘How am I gonna get in the game today?’ I keep an eye on (coach Bill) Russell. He happened to walk by and give me a thumbs-up. I had to take a second look.”

The thumbs-up meant Hatcher would be in the starting lineup. He would be playing in the first postseason game of his semi-lustrous career.

And even though Hatcher says, “I don’t wanna be no superstar,” he was Wednesday night, walking and scoring the Dodgers’ first run, then doubling home 2 more runs in the second inning of the Dodgers’ 6-3 win over the New York Mets.

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Insecurity, that great motivator, struck again, evening up the National League playoffs. Consider the two most insecure Dodgers:

--Mike Marshall must be sitting by his phone these days, waiting for Darryl Strawberry to call.

Met star Strawberry, remember, has announced his intention to jump the club and sign with the Dodgers 2 years from now, bringing his good buddy Eric Davis (of the Cincinnati Reds) along to form a Kirk Gibson-Davis-Strawberry outfield, baseball’s Outfield of the 1990s.

Where does that leave Marshall, the Dodger right fielder? Surely he’s been hoping for a call from the Straw.

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“Listen Mike,” Darryl would say, “we’re not going to have room for you in the outfield in ’90, as you may have heard. But I really like your bat and your arm, big guy. I’d like you to consider taking some ground balls at shortstop next spring.”

Fighting for a spot on the 1990 roster, Marshall had 3 hits, including 2 run-scoring singles.

--But if you want real insecurity, Mickey Hatcher is your man.

Hatcher is a 33-year-old utility player who was out of a job 2 years ago and isn’t exactly the nucleus of the Dodgers, even though he was the team’s leading hitter this season.

He sat on the bench all Tuesday night even though the Dodgers used two pinch-hitters. Manager Tom Lasorda had told him he would be used off the bench this series, but when? Game 7?

But Hatcher squeezed into the starting lineup Wednesday night after regular first baseman Franklin Stubbs hit himself out of the lineup in Game 1. Stubbs stranded half the Dodger roster on base Tuesday night with 2 strikeouts, a pop-up and a ground-out.

It was too early in the series to panic, unless you’re the Dodgers and you aren’t due to beat the Mets again until next July.

This game wasn’t big for the Dodgers, it was titanic and colossal. They were desperate for a win.

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And that second spot in the batting order looked like the weak link in a weak chain that was about ready to snap.

The Dodgers needed a bat between Steve Sax and Gibson. Why not try this Hatcher kid, the one with the .293 average, who once went 112 at-bats without striking out during the season and who can come in cold and hit--witness his team-leading 12 pinch-hits during the season.

Hatcher got his shot.

Lasorda isn’t being heralded as a genius this season for nothing.

Hatcher came to bat in the first inning with 1 out and worked David Cone, a good control pitcher, for a walk. As usual, Hatcher sprinted out the walk like FloJo going for the gold in the 100 meters.

You want lackadaisical, Hatcher is not your man. This is a guy who probably slides head-first into the shower. He went to second head-first on a balk (he was trying to steal the base) and scored on Marshall’s 2-out single, sprinting from home plate to the Dodger dugout in a world record 3.49 seconds.

When you’re 33 years old and playing in the first postseason game of your career, there’s a tendency to be enthusiastic. Not that Hatcher needs any special excuse.

In the second inning, Hatcher’s 2-out line-double down the left-field line drove in 2 runs to give the Dodgers a 4-0 lead, and he came around to score the final run of the 4-run inning.

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He also hit the ball solidly the next two times up, no doubt insuring himself a spot in the starting lineup Friday night in Game 3 of the series in New York.

Ron Darling, a right-hander, goes for the Mets, but the right-handed Hatcher is so goofy he doesn’t know righties aren’t supposed to hit righties. In the regular season he hit .261 vs. lefties and .388 against right-handers--19 for 49, with 2 strikeouts, as many whiffs in 49 at-bats as Stubbs had Tuesday night in 4 tries.

“I just try to go out and give it my best,” Hatcher said, aw-shucks style, after Wednesday’s game. His uniform was in ruins, smeared with dirt from top to bottom, dirt caked in his shirt buttons and dust crumbling off his belt buckle.

“I always tell the guys, if you go out there and give 110%, good things are gonna happen, and good things happened tonight.”

Two springs ago, Hatcher was released by the Minnesota Twins and picked up by the Dodgers, the team that drafted him 9 years ago and brought him into pro ball.

Since then, despite his steady bat mainly off the bench, he was been known primarily as the team cutup, wearing hats with propellers and generally keeping the guys loose.

Wednesday, he did a little extra, wore a regular hat and saved his team.

After the game he seemed in no hurry to get out of his uniform. He might still be wearing it this morning. He wants to be ready just in case Russell comes by Friday with the thumbs-up.


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