What began as an isolated pocket of resistance has become a full-scale uprising. Collecting hits that you can’t even see from the bench, Dodger reserves are clamoring for respect, playing time, or at least a funny nickname.
First it was Jose Gonzalez, who had the nerve to win a game against the New York Mets last Saturday with a 14th-inning home run.
Now it is Chris Gwynn, who, upon dusting himself off Wednesday night, hit his first career grand slam in his first two-homer game to lead the Dodgers to a 12-2 victory. He had a solo shot in the first inning.
When the Dodgers won the world championship in 1988, their successful bench players were known as the Stunt Men. Thus far this year, the reserves have been the stunted men.
But Gwynn’s fourth and fifth homers of the year showed that could change, as he helped the Dodgers move to within 5 1/2 games of the National League West-leading Cincinnati Reds, who lost to St. Louis, 9-1.
It is the third time in 11 days that the Dodgers have been this close to first place. They have not been closer since May 6.
“We talk about it all the time . . . this is getting fun, and we want to make a contribution,” Gwynn said. “Nobody was happier than me to see Jose hit his home run. I mean, we spend a lot of time on the bench just looking at each other.”
Gwynn earned most of the glances Wednesday on a night that lasted 4 hours 52 minutes because of a lengthy rain delay.
He was making just his third start since June 24, just his 14th start this season. Even then, he was only in the lineup because regular left-fielder Kal Daniels reported to the park with a sore back and because a right-hander, rookie Tommy Greene, was pitching.
“But I know how that works, it’s worked that way all year,” said Gwynn, who showed how well he keeps any frustrations hidden by hitting his first-inning homer over the right-field fence against Greene.
The hard part for him was two innings later, after Mike Scioscia’s two-run homer gave the Dodgers a 3-0 edge. In the top of the third, with Gwynn batting, a rainstorm moved over the stadium and the game was delayed for 2:24 minutes.
“We found out Cincinnati had lost and we had this lead and I was just hoping everything wouldn’t get washed out,” Gwynn said.
Gwynn said he remained fresh and inspired during the delay by watching Kevin Mitchell hit two home runs for the San Francisco Giants on television, and by drinking coffee.
Four innings after the game resumed, Mitchell’s influence worked even better than the caffeine as Gwynn hit a 1-and-0 pitch from Darrel Akerfelds over the right-field fence for a slam that highlighted an eight-run inning.
“My first grand slam and the first two-homer game ever, even in little league, and I remember those things,” said Gwynn, who entered the season homerless in 111 career at-bats.
His bat capped a 15-hit night for the offense against five Phillies pitchers and provided a safe cushion for Fernando Valenzuela, who allowed two runs in five innings to win his third consecutive start.
“Those eight runs, that made it a lot better,” said Valenzuela, who has allowed just six runs in his last 19 innings to improve to 12-10 while lowerin his earned-run average to 3.93.
By throwing four scoreless innings, Tim Crews picked up his fifth save. Although by then, the Phillies had already been sufficiently demoralized by a man they never expected to even see.
Not that manager Tom Lasorda doesn’t know that Gwynn is around.
“I have told him, ‘Hey, I wish I could play you ever day,”’ Lasorda said of Gwynn, who is batting .278. “And I mean that. I think if he played every day, he would do a good job. He is a good hitter.”
Lasorda shook his head and lowered his voice. “But you know I’m just not in a position to do that.”
Gwynn, like Gonzalez, would like to start, and with good reason. In his 14 starts this season, he is batting .327 with 11 RBIs and 12 runs scored.
But unlike Gonzalez, who has twice asked to be traded, Gwynn no longer makes noise about it.
“Earlier this year I was worrying and wondering about, but I have learned, all of that stuff makes no difference,” Gwynn said. “All it does it makes you feel worse, and little else.”
Last weekend Gonzalez said he did not expect to be playing with the Dodgers next year. On Wednesday, Gwynn differed about himself.
“Unless I’m traded, I guess I will be here,” he said, shrugging.
His grand slam in the sixth inning after two other part-time players came thrugh with big hits. Mickey Hatcher had a bases-loaded pinch single for one run, and Juan Samuel, also pinch-hitting, knocked a hard grounder that third baseman Charlie Hayes booted for another run.
Kal Daniels’ back was still sore when he reported to Veterans’ Stadium, so he was kept out of the lineup. Alfredo Griffin was returned to the lineup even though Jose Offerman singled, walked and scored the eventual winning run Tuesday. . . . During the rain delay, the Phillies announced that outfielder Len Dykstra signed a three-year contract with an option year that could keep him with the team through 1994. The conract guarantees him just over $7 million for three seasons, making him more than a $2-million-per-year player. Dysktra, who could have become a free agent after next season, entered Wednesday as the major league’s leading hitter with a .340 average. “You are going to laugh at me when I say this,” Dykstra said, “but I think that before my contract is up here, we could win the division. In fact, we will win the division.” Fred Claire, Dodger vice president, would have liked to have making such a contract announcement, as he attempted to acquire Dykstra in the middle of last season and last winter.
Tim Belcher, who postponed Tuesday’s scheduled first day of rehabilitative throwing, said his shoulder still does not feel good enough to to pitch. “I don’t even need to feel good, I’ll settle for feeling better,” said Belcher, who has not thrown since he went on the disabled list Aug. 17 with shoulder tendinitis.