A fifth straight day off would have been preferable to the embarrassment the Dodgers experienced Friday night.
To start with, Ken Howell, a man they traded in December, allowed only four hits in seven shutout innings before Steve Bedrosian wrapped up a 3-0 victory for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Then there was Mike Davis, who came off his pivotal pratfall in Sunday’s game against the Chicago Cubs to provide another base-running gaffe at a critical juncture of what became the Dodgers’ fourth shutout in the last 12 games--their team batting average, already last in the National League, dropping to .226.
Manager Tom Lasorda, who maintains a policy of not criticizing his players publicly, shelved it in this case, creating doubt as to when Davis, who wants to be traded because of his lack of playing time, will get another start and heightening speculation that the club may be ready to eat the remainder of his $975,000 salary by releasing him when Kirk Gibson comes off the disabled list.
The game was still scoreless when Davis, batting .213 at the time, singled to open the seventh inning against Howell. Mike Marshall walked. Eddie Murray, the team’s runs-batted-in leader, came to the plate.
The count reached 2 and 1. Howell stood on the mound, looking for a sign. Davis suddenly broke for third base. Howell stepped off the rubber and fired to Mike Schmidt, who applied the tag for out No. 1. Murray popped up, Scioscia flied out and the threat died.
A reporter asked Lasorda about the wisdom of Davis’ attempt.
“We’ve got runners at first and second, no outs and Murray up swinging left-handed; would you steal?” Lasorda asked in response.
The reporter shook his head.
“Well,” said Lasorda, “if you know that and you’re not a manager, why are you even asking me?
“We’ve got the guy in a jam with nobody out. I mean, nobody out . You’d have to say we let him off the hook.”
Third base coach Joe Amalfitano concurred.
“Mike’s been successful with that a few times,” Amalfitano said. “When it works it’s great, but in my professional opinion, this wasn’t the time to try it.”
Davis said he would probably never try it again, even though, to his recollection, he has attempted it nine times, drawn a throw only twice and been caught just this once. The object, he said, is to catch the third baseman napping.
“We had some momentum and I thought I could put us in better shape in a scoreless game by getting to third,” he said. “But instead I hurt us more than helped us.
“Schmidt was on top of it, and when you get caught, it changes the whole thing. It can be a great play, but you can’t get caught.
“I feel like I cost us the game. For that, I’ll apologize to the team and probably never try that play again.”
The Dodgers have lost eight of their last 12 games. If they weren’t last in the league in so many offensive categories and if they hadn’t gone into this game with three starters hitting below .200 and three others below .250, one play might not have been so important. And the Dodgers might not have been so overanxious against Howell, a pitcher who tends to be wild and with whom they are certainly familiar.
Howell struck out seven and walked three in his seven innings. Was Lasorda impressed?
“We certainly helped him out a lot swinging at a lot of bad three-and-two pitches,” he said. “We haven’t hit all season and we’re just not driving in the runs. We get people to second base but can’t cash them in.”
Howell said he didn’t see any indication that the Dodgers were pressing, that all teams swing at both good and bad pitches. He said he was shocked to see Davis run and told himself, “Don’t balk, step off, make a good throw.”
Coming off eight shutout innings against Cincinnati in his last start, Howell is 4-1. Of this first start against his former team, he said:
“It was tough facing the team I grew up with. I mean, it was really strange in the first inning to go into my windup, look in the dugout, see all those blue jerseys and realize I wasn’t wearing one. I just tried to remember their weaknesses, pitch the best I can and keep my head out of the dugout.
“I haven’t paid any attention to what they’re hitting, I’m not a statistician. They’re going to hit, no doubt, but with guys like Gibson and (Alfredo) Griffin out, a pitcher has to go out and try to take advantage of that situation.”
Tim Leary (2-3), with eight days between starts, matched Howell’s effectiveness, allowing three hits through six innings before singles by Darren Daulton, Ricky Joran and pinch-hitter Mark Ryal, the former Angel, broke the scoreless tie in the seventh.
Tim Crews came on to pitch the eighth and yielded a double to Juan Samuel and triple to Tom Herr. Von Hayes’ single off Ray Searage made it 3-0.
Bedrosian walked the bases loaded in the ninth, but Herr back-handed a wicked one-hopper by Scioscia and turned it into a game-ending double play.
Will Davis play in tonight’s game?
“Why don’t you come to the ballpark and see,” Lasorda said.
Mark Ryal was 2 for 14 this season and 0 for 4 as a pinch-hitter when he singled in the first run. Manager Nick Leyva, who could have called on Steve Jeltz, 7 for 14 against Tim Leary in his career, or Dwayne Murphy, is 3 for 7 as a pinch-hitter this year, said of Ryal’s selection: “I had a hunch is all. Sometimes you just get lucky.” . . . Leary, who deserved better, said: “It’s hard to win when you don’t score. All I can do is plug along and try to keep us in the game.” He dismissed the eight day layoff, saying: “I’ve pitched in Mexico with two weeks rest. If I was a first- or second-year pro it might have bothered me, but you see it all eventually.”
Executive Vice President Fred Claire said he can’t predict when Kirk Gibson will return but won’t rush it. “It might be different if this was Aug. 1, but we want him healthy and comfortable when he returns,” Claire said. “We’ve invested this time now and we don’t want to push him to the point where he has a setback.” . . . Monday will be a big day for veteran Philadelphia third baseman Mike Schmidt. The conditional contract he signed in the wake of last fall’s shoulder surgery called for a guaranteed $500,000 and another $500,000 if he was on the roster May 15. He will receive another $500,000 if he is on the roster Aug. 15.
Dodger Farm Report: Ramon Martinez is 5-1 with a 3.26 ERA at Albuquerque. John Wetteland, a 22-year-old right-hander, is also 5-1 with a 2.72 ERA and a remarkable strikeout-to-walk ratio. Wetteland has 55 strikeouts and only 11 walks in 49 2/3 innings. Bill Bene, the Dodgers No. 1 draft pick out of Cal State Los Angeles last June, is having a tough time at Bakersfield. Bene is 0-2 with a 13.50 ERA. He has walked 25 and allowed 17 earned runs in 11 1/3 innings.