Giants Make Big Move as Dodgers Remain Stalled

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Somewhere between Brett Butler's leap and Mike Kingery's dive Thursday night, the thought may have finally crossed the Dodgers' minds.

If destiny is on their side, it is in a terrible slump.

On another big-stakes night when every little thing went wrong, the Dodgers lost close calls, ground balls, free falls, and a 3-1 decision to the Giants.

"When you keep your backs against the wall hoping to get a break, and don't get one, you lose," catcher Mike Scioscia said. "And that's us."

Before 29,189 at Candlestick Park, the Giants moved to within 4 1/2 games of the Cincinnati Reds, the closest they have been since the eighth game of the season.

The Dodgers, losing their third consecutive game since unofficially entering the race earlier this week, maintained a nine-game deficit that seemed like 19.

On another typical Candlestick night of complaints from Manager Tom Lasorda about loudmouths above his dugout, the Dodgers committed two errors and lost a 1-0 lead on Robby Thompson's fifth-inning homer. Three batters later, Matt Williams' RBI double cinched it against Fernando Valenzuela.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the exclamation point was provided by Giant outfielders Butler and Kingery on a consecutive pitches in the eighth inning.

With the Dodgers trailing, 3-1, Kal Daniels opened the inning with a line drive in the right-field gap. Butler chased it and made a leaping, over-the-shoulder, back-handed catch coming soon to a Diamond Vision screen near you.

The only bad part for the fans was, they didn't have much time to cheer. On the next pitch from Giant starter John Burkett (10-3), Eddie Murray lined a ball toward the right-field corner. Kingery, who just entered the game, made a diving, back-handed grab to end the Dodger hopes.

"I couldn't believe it," Daniels said. "I hit the ball square, I think I got a double in the gap, and then I see him flying through the air. Next thing I know, he's got it.

"When they showed the replay up there on the scoreboard, I wasn't watching. I couldn't stand to watch it. I don't want to see it again."

Said Butler: "I don't think I've ever made a better catch . . . but it was even bigger with Kingery's catch. I miss my ball, he misses his ball, and there's a runner on second and the score is 3-2."

Another Dodger who couldn't believe things was Valenzuela, who was out of the game after six innings after giving up three runs, two earned.

With one out in the fifth, after Thompson gave the Giants the lead with his 10th homer, Valenzuela seemed to slow the rally by fooling Gary Carter into a check-swing grounder to third baseman Mike Sharperson. But the ball bounced off Sharperson's glove and feet and rolled into foul territory. Carter was safe on first with the error.

But that isn't what made Valenzuela so mad. Mitchell doubled into the left-field corner, but Carter was thrown out at home plate on a relay throw from Alfredo Griffin, so there were two out when he worked the count to 2-and-2 against Williams.

It was here Valenzuela got upset, as he threw what he thought was strike three. Umpire Eric Gregg called it ball three. Valenzuela, quietly fuming, then allowed Williams, who had four hits in his past 39 at-bats, to knock another ball into the left-field corner to finalize the score.

"It was a close pitch, it was good for me, but he didn't make the call," Valenzuela said of Gregg.

Added Lasorda: "He had him struck out, I knew he did."

Valenzuela, who fell to 8-9, made his opinion known to Gregg upon walking to the clubhouse after the sixth inning. He kicked dirt across home plate and pointed at the umpire before stalking away. Valenzuela also could have been mad about the fourth inning, with the Dodgers leading, 1-0, on Murray's RBI double. Mitchell led off with a grounder to Griffin. The shortstop moved to his right, but the ball went to his left, and off his glove for an error. Mitchell moved to second on a grounder by Williams, and scored the tying run on a double by Greg Litton, who picked up his 11th RBI of the season.

Dodger Notes

Jay Howell's participation in the final two months of the season may be in jeopardy because of a left knee that is hurting again. The Dodgers' bullpen ace, who underwent arthroscopic surgery April 24, said he is experiencing as much swelling and pain as before the surgery. "It is as bad as it's been," Howell said of knee, raising the possibility of another surgery. "If it doesn't get any better, I guess we would have to cut on it. Or if the swelling goes down, we could wait until the end of the season. Either way, we're going to look at it and decide something." Howell, whose knee was heavily wrapped in ice before the game, said that the knee hasn't felt great since the surgery, and recently worsened. Many feel Howell rushed his recovery from the original surgery, as he missed less than a month, returning to action May 18. He was then used in consecutive games, and his knee has never recovered.

Juan Samuel was able to walk without crutches for the first time since spraining his left ankle Tuesday. "It is feeling better," said Samuel, whose condition will be evaluated in a couple of days. . . . Mike Morgan's sore right ankle has improved such that he will make his scheduled start here Saturday. Morgan, who turned his ankle Monday while falling over first base after making a putout, said he is just glad he is a right-hander. "My left shoulder is killing me after that fall," Morgan said. "If I was a left-hander, I would be missing the start."

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