Do-or-Die Spirit of Dodgers Lets Reds Live It Up
The calendar read June. The 90-degree temperatures felt like July.
But the Dodgers played Sunday with the nervousness of late September.
Acting as if their game against the National League West-leading Cincinnati Reds was a last chance, they exhibited all the symptoms of a pennant-race breakdown. They swung too hard. They tried to be too fancy on defense.
They lost their patience, and eventually the game, falling to the Reds, 2-0, before 46,307 at Dodger Stadium.
It was the kind of afternoon that might have made Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda wonder about the two-year contract extension he signed Sunday morning. Will he be physically able to watch this stuff until 1993?
“I was very happy this morning . . . " Lasorda said, his voice trailing.
Afterward, his players felt as bad as he did.
“It was almost like, we had to win this game,” Mike Sharperson said. “What are the Reds up now, 12?”
It only seems that way. By taking three out of four games in this weekend’s showdown-turned-blowout, the Reds dropped the Dodgers to 11 games out of first in the West.
The Dodgers still have 14 games remaining against the Reds. They still have 97 games remaining against the rest of the National League. The Atlanta Braves will begin a series at Dodger Stadium tonight.
But the Dodgers wrung their hands Sunday like there was no tomorrow.
Three times they were within a fly-ball out or groundout of scoring at least one run against starter Tom Browning and reliever Randy Myers. Each time they failed, including a flyout and strikeout by Kirk Gibson.
The fans, showing about as much patience as the players, booed Gibson, who was playing just his second game in nearly a year.
On defense, the Dodgers could have helped inspired starter Fernando Valenzuela, but got sloppy on a rundown play that eventually cost him a run.
“I don’t have anything to say,” said talkative Lenny Harris. “We were terrible.”
Not that the Dodgers were completely to blame. The Reds, with the major league’s best record at 33-12, are 21 games over the .500 mark for the first time in more than 10 years. They lead the league in hitting and pitching.
And even their guys with average statistics are looking great, as evidenced by Browning, who entered the game at 4-4.
He didn’t yield a hit until the sixth, when Valenzuela led off with a double to right-center. Eight of Browning’s first 15 outs were on fly balls, but when you have guys like left fielder Eric Davis diving into the stands after catching those fly balls, as he did on a Hubie Brooks drive in the second inning, it doesn’t much matter.
Valenzuela countered with five scoreless innings, a big change from his last start, in Pittsburgh, when he didn’t even last five innings. But when he allowed a leadoff double by Billy Hatcher in the sixth, the quiet Dodger collapse began.
Barry Larkin hit a grounder back to Valenzuela, who turned and discovered Hatcher stuck between second and third base. The fundamental play is to run Hatcher back to second base. But Hatcher was quick enough that Alfredo Griffin and Sharperson couldn’t force him to run anywhere. By the time they finally tagged him out between the bases, smart and fast Larkin was standing on second.
Three batters later, Joe Oliver hit a bloop single to score Larkin and make the Dodgers’ veterans wince.
“It seems like every time you can’t complete a double play, or give them an extra out or base on defense, it comes back to hurt you,” catcher Rick Dempsey said of a defense that leads the league with 51 errors. “This series told us that we need to bear down on defense.
The Reds scored their other run in the seventh on three singles, with the final one in the form of a grounder by Barry Larkin that bounced outside of Griffin’s glove. By then, the Dodgers had already blown one scoring opportunity, and were an inning away from blowing another one.
During their first offensive mishap, neither Gibson nor Kal Daniels, who struck out, could score Valenzuela from third base with one out in the sixth. Then in the eighth inning, after Griffin led off with a single and Mike Scioscia moved him to third on a double, Myers relieved Browning and both runners were stranded.
Sharperson flied to right, Gibson struck out, and, after Daniels walked, Brooks grounded the ball back to Myers. The reliever picked up his 11th save, and has not allowed the Dodgers an earned run in 19 appearances.
“All I had to do was hit the ball to second base to score a run, and I couldn’t do it,” said Sharperson, still hitting .290. “Instead of trying to hit it, I tried to guide it, and I got underneath it . . . I think I just tried to hard.”
As the Dodgers’ record against teams with above .500 records fell to 11-14, he was not the only one.
Eddie Murray was sidelined for the fourth consecutive start because of a strained left hamstring, but was available to pinch-hit. . . . Mickey Hatcher started in Murray’s place, although Hatcher has a minor right hamstring injury. . . . Dodger reliever Jay Howell took a big step toward resuming his role as the bullpen stopper by holding the Reds to one hit in two scoreless innings. Howell has now thrown six consecutive scoreless innings.
Reliever Ray Searage felt good Sunday after a 75-pitch simulated game Saturday. He will throw one more simulated game next week and, if his elbow feels good enough, he could be activated when the Dodgers begin their six-game trip to San Diego and Houston. . . . Fernando Valenzuela threw 134 pitches Sunday and still felt good after giving up two runs on nine hits in seven innings. “It’s this warm weather, it’s good for pitching,” Valenzuela said. “We didn’t score runs and we lost, and that’s bad, but in my case, I did my job, and I’m at least happy with that.” Valenzuela (4-5) has lost two games in a row but lowered his ERA to 3.93.
John Wetteland’s start against Atlanta Wednesday night could be his final major league action for a while if he doesn’t improve 1-4 record and 7.82 ERA. The Dodgers might return him to triple-A Albuquerque to while giving Mike Maddux a chance to be the fifth starter.
* TOM LASORDA: Dodger manager is given a two-year extension on his contract. C10