Dodgers '88: A SEASON TO REMEMBER : GAME 4: Dodgers 4, Athletics 3

Times Staff Writer

How they have done it, no one can say for sure. Not even the Dodgers, it seems, can definitively explain why the subtraction of 3 of their best position players can add up to 3 victories over the Oakland Athletics and put them on the verge of winning the World Series.

But the Dodgers do not care how they've done it. They may have been beaten up Wednesday night in Game 4 at the Oakland Coliseum, having lost Kirk Gibson, Mike Marshall and Mike Scioscia and starter John Tudor to injuries over the course of this fortnight. But once again, they were not beaten.

Instead, the Dodgers countered with offensive resourcefulness and ingenuity, coupled with outstanding pitching by starter Tim Belcher and reliever Jay Howell, to beat the A's, 4-3, and take a 3-games-to-1 lead in the Series.

They can win the championship in Game 5 tonight, when the starters will be Dodger ace Orel Hershiser and the A's Storm Davis. Hershiser, who shut out the A's in Game 2 and has not lost since Aug. 14, probably will have Marshall and perhaps Scioscia back in the lineup.

"Everybody seems stunned, but we're in a position to win it," Gibson said. "It doesn't matter how we won. If we can do it one more time, any way possible, we'll be world champs."

Even if the Dodgers have to go with the same bedraggled lineup they used Wednesday night, they like their chances.

The A's, hitting a measly .186 through 4 games, couldn't beat the Seattle Mariners, let alone Hershiser, if their offense remains stagnant.

"You really can't put it into words, what we've done," Scioscia said. "I guess if you went to the dictionary and looked up the word team , you'd see the Dodgers. This is a team that always pulls together. We lose a guy, it doesn't matter."

Wednesday night, against Oakland ace Dave Stewart, the Dodgers won by executing the hit-and-run almost perfectly, by putting their faith in a rookie starting pitcher who was bombed in his first Series start last week, and in a beleaguered relief pitcher who not only had to shut down the A's but battle a few personal demons as well.

The Dodger lineup--featuring Franklin Stubbs, Mickey Hatcher, Mike Davis and John Shelby as the meat, no, tofu , of the order--strung together enough singles, walks and A's defensive mistakes to score 4 runs, 2 unearned.

Meanwhile, Belcher became the latest Dodger pitcher to shut down the A's supposedly vaunted offense. Belcher, who lasted less than 2 innings and got a no-decision in Game 1, allowed 3 runs (2 earned) and 7 hits in 6 innings. He struck out 7 and kept the A's Bashers missing their intended targets.

When Belcher tired, on came Howell. It was another anxiety-ridden appearance for the right-handed short reliever, who gave up a game-winning home run to former teammate Mark McGwire in the ninth inning of Game 3 Tuesday night.

This time, Howell handled McGwire and those demons. With the bases loaded and 2 outs in the seventh inning, Howell forced McGwire to meekly pop his first pitch to first base to end the threat. Howell then worked a relatively non-eventful eighth inning, before the drama intensified in another ninth-inning showdown against the Bashers.

With 1 out and Dave Henderson on first base, Howell struck out Jose Canseco on the only slider he threw during his stint. Then he got Dave Parker to foul out near third base to end it and put the Dodgers on the verge of their first championship since 1981.

"It's the nature of the game," Howell said of his earlier failure. "I just thought (Wednesday night) that this was a tough situation, and I had to do what I had to do. I didn't have any negative thoughts."

Manager Tom Lasorda has never admitted to having negative thoughts about anything, but he must have had some queasy moments throughout the late innings. But did you expect it to be easy with this team?

"We didn't have the big bombers," Hatcher said. "We just try to do the little things that might help you win games."

Not many outside the Dodger clubhouse gave them a chance in this one. Gibson missed his fourth straight Series start with a sprained right knee ligament. He was joined on the bench by Marshall, who had recurring back problems.

So, this was part of the lineup of your Dodgers:

--Davis in right field for Marshall, batting cleanup.

--Hatcher in left field for Gibson, batting third.

--Heep as the designated hitter, batting seventh.

--And Stubbs at first base, batting second.

Maybe because those 4 Dodgers had a combined .244 batting average with 21 home runs and 140 RBIs, broadcaster Bob Costas said during NBC's pregame show that this might be the worst World Series lineup ever fielded.

"Right before the game in the clubhouse, the pregame show came on, and Bob Costas said that this was the worst hitting team in the history of the World Series," Lasorda said. "They went nuts. I'm trying to calm them down. They're yelling, 'We'll show them.' "

The Dodgers responded to that remark as they have to criticism by New York Mets pitcher David Cone and Oakland's Don Baylor. They set out to prove their detractors wrong.

That task wasn't made easier when Scioscia went down, leaving the Dodgers with only Rick Dempsey at catcher. While trying to manufacture another run for Belcher, Scioscia took off for second base. Heep did not swing at the pitch to protect Scioscia, and Scioscia was easily thrown out. When he emerged from his slide, Scioscia had twisted his right knee and had to be helped from the field.

By the game's end, the only position players Lasorda had not used were the banged-up Gibson and Dave Anderson.

"The lineup has been like this before," Hatcher said. "We haven't always had Gibby and Marshall in there. That's why we have (us) Stuntmen. Some of us even root for those guys to go out so we can play."

You can scoff at this lineup, but it produced.

A few of their stunts:

--Hatcher, who has flourished in Gibson's third spot in the order, delivered a hit-and-run single in the first inning that moved Steve Sax to third and set up a 2-run inning.

--Davis' hard grounder to second, which Glenn Hubbard fumbled into an error, scored Sax in the first inning. And Davis' liner that A's shortstop Walt Weiss misplayed into an error in the third inning accounted for the Dodgers' third run.

--And Stubbs began the third-inning rally with a double to right field.

"We usually have a lineup of Gibson, Marshall and Shelby, but tonight the lineup was a total mish-mash," Scioscia said. "Tommy had to put a lineup out there, and the one he did got the job done."

Among the admirers on the bench was Gibson, who said he definitely would not start tonight.

"Up to this point, they've done it without me just fine," Gibson said. "These guys who are playing, they aren't worried about me or Marshall or Tudor. They are just trying to win.

"We understand we're beat up. We understand that the Oakland A's are a great team you can't keep down long. We know we can't get complacent. But we also know we just have to win 1 of 3 games."

If the Dodgers' outstanding pitching holds, that goal figures to be achieved.

The Dodgers might have had some doubts heading into Game 4. Belcher, in his rocky Game 1 outing, had shown signs of a rookie unraveling. As late as Tuesday, he still seemed overcome by the World Series experience, missing a news conference because he took the wrong BART train.

But somehow, Belcher made it to the Coliseum in time for his start Wednesday, and he made the most of it.

He was nursing a 3-1 lead in the sixth when Carney Lansford broke an 0-for-12 slump with a run-scoring single to slash the Dodger lead to 1. But the Dodgers reclaimed a 2-run lead in the seventh with a run that was scored on Tracy Woodson's ground-out.

Belcher, tiring after throwing more than 100 pitches, lost it in the bottom of the seventh--not the lead, just his dominating pitching form.

Howell was summoned, and despite the urgings of the 49,317 fans at the Coliseum, the A's could not produce a come-from-behind sequel against him.

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