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Howell Helps Give Dodgers Second-Half Restart, 3-2

Times Staff Writer

Usually it is just another baseball word that doesn’t really mean what it says. Usually it is a word, applying to relief pitchers, that is nothing more than a statistic.

But then there are nights like Thursday, when, in front of 23 fidgety Dodger teammates, reliever Jay Howell truly recorded a save .

With five pitches in the ninth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals, Howell saved not just a game, but a feeling--the best feeling these Dodgers have had since the start of summer. For a team stumbling away from a first-half crash, he saved a second-half start.

Entering the game with one out and runners on first and second and the Dodgers leading, 3-1, he allowed a run-scoring single to Jose Oquendo but retired John Morris and Leon Durham on three pitches to close out a 3-2 victory before 33,358 fans at Dodger Stadium.

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“To use an expression--he’s been a lifesaver,” Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda said of Howell.

“To let the team down tonight would have been a crime,” Howell said.

The Dodgers returned to work following the three-day All-Star break in pleasant spirits. First, there was a short pregame talk by Lasorda. Then there was a quick run in the first inning on Eddie Murray’s RBI single, one of his three hits and two runs batted in. Then there was starter Orel Hershiser, allowing just four hits and one run, on a bases-loaded walk, in eight innings.

Then came the ninth. Hershiser allowed a one-out ground single to right field by Terry Pendleton. Two pitches later, Tom Brunansky grounded a single to the other side.

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“I was just working on reserve then,” said Hershiser, who threw 119 pitches. “I didn’t have the bullets to get out of it.”

So, in from left field walked the Dodgers’ late-night weapon. He stopped calmly in the outfield to hand his jacket to a bat boy. He calmly threw his warm-up pitches and got ready to face Oquendo, who at the time had 15 hits in 30 at-bats this season against the Dodgers.

“He’s batting about 1.000 against us, so I figured the odds are in my favor that he’d pop one up,” Howell said.

Oquendo threw out his bat, and the ball bounced off it into right field for an RBI single to make it 3-2.

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“Guess he proved me wrong,” Howell said.

His logic and instincts having failed him, Howell then turned to his memory for help. The next batter was pinch-hitter Morris, who faced Howell last season.

“I remembered that he had spanked a first-pitch fastball to center field against me, so I figured he might go for the first pitch again,” Howell said.

And so Morris did, grounding the ball to Murray at first base for the second out. But the runners moved up, and with pinch-hitter Durham batting, Howell’s strategy changed.

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“I had first base open, so I could afford to try more different things with him,” Howell said. “But with a guy on third base, I couldn’t afford to try a curveball and bounce it past the catcher and have the guy score the tying run.”

Translated: He needed to throw fastballs, but he could throw them anywhere he wanted. He chose the inside of the plate.

He threw strike one there, and then strike two, and Durham finally grew tired of watching. Howell’s next pitch was a waist-high strike, but Durham swung and missed, and the Dodgers had won.

With Howell pitching, nobody really expected anything different.

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When asked about Howell, Kirk Gibson simply said, “Hey, how many has the guy blown?”

The answer is two. In 18 save opportunities, Howell has 16 saves and has allowed just four earned runs in 47 innings for an 0.77 earned-run average. Considering that his career ERA is 3.53, he is having the season of his life, or most relief pitchers’ lives.

Not everybody appreciates this. Cincinnati Reds reliever Rob Dibble, when learning that Howell made the All-Star team, sarcastically said, “So, big, bad Jay Howell made the All-Star team.”

Howell shrugged. “His comments speak for themselves,” he said. “I know I wouldn’t have said anything bad about him if he made the team. This winter, the Dodgers said, ‘We appreciate you,’ by giving me the three-year contract (worth $3 million). That said it loud and clear.”

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And Thursday illustrated that worth plain and simple.

“You can’t waste efforts like tonight,” Howell said.

He was talking about many things, among them the 8 1/3 good innings by Hershiser that ultimately made him 10-7 while lowering his ERA to 2.45. Anybody want to guess his record at this time last season? It was 13-4 with a 2.62 ERA.

“I figured it was about the same,” Hershiser said. “We just don’t have quite as good of a team as last year yet.”

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Howell also saved the good efforts of Murray, who has 14 hits in his last 41 at-bats (.341) to raise his average to .247. He was the main reason the Dodgers finally figured out Thursday’s starter and loser, Ken Hill, a rookie who was 2-0 with an 0.78 ERA against them in three previous starts this season.

Somebody wondered if, as Murray saw more pitchers for the second and third times in this league, whether he wouldn’t be ruining a lot more nights.

“It’s always easier when you see somebody for a second or third time,” Murray said. “It makes hitting a little more comfortable. And I’m getting a little more comfortable.”

Dodger Notes

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Alfredo Griffin’s hot streak, in which he has 48 hits in his last 140 at-bats (.343), is even more impressive considering what is on his mind. Griffin, who had two more hits Thursday to improve his batting average to .280, said that he has been worried about his sick mother, who is hospitalized in the Dominican Republic. He visited her over the All-Star break and is trying to bring her to the United States for the first time. “She’s been sick for a long time, so I’m prepared for it, but it’s still hard,” Griffin said. “When I go see her, she is happy, and when I leave she is sad. I want to get her over by my side. But she never wants to leave our home.” . . . Tim Leary confirmed Thursday that he has been sent to the bullpen. While he didn’t sound thrilled about it, he said he was too excited over last week’s birth of his baby girl to be mad. “I’m still high from the baby; I don’t have time to get angry,” Leary said. “I still think my best value is as a starter.” The Dodgers told Leary he would probably start in one of the two doubleheaders next weekend in Pittsburgh and that his situation could possibly be re-evaluated after that. “I’ll wait until then and see what happens,” Leary said. . . . John Dempsey, son of Dodger catcher Rick Dempsey, has signed a contract with the St. Louis Cardinals and will join an instructional league team in Phoenix Saturday. Dempsey, a catcher at Crespi High School, was the Cardinals’ 10th-round draft pick in June. . . . Albuquerque pitcher Ramon Martinez, likely to be

in a Dodger uniform by Monday afternoon as the starting pitcher against the Chicago Cubs, was the starter and winner Wednesday night in the triple-A All-Star game at Columbus, Ohio. In leading the National League minor leaguers to a win over the American League prospects, Martinez allowed one run in three innings.


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