A division championship would still take miracles. But the Dodgers, despite running low on starting pitchers and injury-free outfielders, may still have a few left.
Scoring on a fluke bouncer by the pitcher, a two-strike fly ball by a sore-kneed hitter, a single by a .205-hitting catcher and a squeeze bunt that was pure suicide, the Dodgers defeated the Cincinnati Reds, 6-4, Sunday to maintain their faint pennant pulse.
Before 41,740 at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers completed a three-game weekend series against the National League West leaders with two victories and one game gained in the standings. They moved to within 5 1/2 games of the Reds with 22 remaining, including three next weekend in Cincinnati.
"I think the same thing about the Reds that I've thought all year--that they're no better than us," Kal Daniels said. "The first half of the season belonged to them, the second half of the season belongs to us and this thing is going down to the wire."
The Reds still don't see it as being quite so close, and who can blame them?
If they go 12-11 in their final 23 games, the Dodgers must go 17-5 to tie them, a .773 pace. And the Reds have 17 home games remaining, while the Dodgers have only eight.
"They have their work cut out for them," said losing pitcher Danny Jackson, who gave up five runs--three earned--in five innings. "They still have to try and catch us. And if we lose it, we just gave it to them."
The Reds tried to give it to the Dodgers early Sunday when Bill Doran, playing in only his third professional game at third base, made two errors leading to two unearned runs in the second inning. But Ramon Martinez, who pitched his first complete game in a month despite 99-degree heat, turned a 3-1 lead into a 4-3 deficit by giving up two runs in the fifth on a single, double and triple.
In the bottom of the inning, without leaving his seat, Manager Tom Lasorda pulled off the play of the game. By breaking one of baseball's unwritten rules, he broke the Reds.
The Dodgers had tied it, 4-4, on reserve Rick Dempsey's single against Jackson with one out in the fifth. Dempsey, batting only .205, had fought off a couple of two-strike pitches with foul balls before lining his single up the middle.
The hit moved Mike Sharperson to third base, bringing up Alfredo Griffin. On Jackson's first pitch, Sharperson broke for home and Griffin squared to bunt. The pitch was high, Griffin barely fouling it off. The Reds figured the Dodgers were finished with that trick.
"To call for a suicide squeeze on two straight pitches takes a lot of courage because it's just not done," said third base coach Joe Amalfitano. "In fact, nobody I have ever worked for has called that play . . . that is, nobody except Tommy."
Amalfitano flashed the sign, Sharperson left the base as soon Jackson's front foot hit the ground, Griffin was given a perfect low pitch that he chopped to the left side of the mound, and Sharperson easily scored with the eventual winning run.
"Do you know what would have happened if they had pitched out and caught us?" Lasorda asked. "Do you know how that would have looked? That happens, I'm dead. But the play works because of the element of surprise. Nobody ever does it so . . . nobody is ever expecting it."
Lasorda then let Martinez bat even though he had given up four runs on six hits in five innings.
"I just couldn't pull him out," Lasorda said. "We had the lead. I had to give the kid one more chance."
Martinez, who struck out to end the inning, showed his appreciation for the chance by throwing what may have been his best fastball of the game on his first pitch in the sixth inning.
"I saw that fastball and I said, 'Whoa,' " Lasorda said. "All of a sudden, he was a different pitcher."
Said Martinez: "They give me the confidence to stay in the game, so I say, 'You got to get this game.' Then it was, like, this was the way I used to pitch."
He gave up only two hits in the last four innings, striking out three to give him eight strikeouts overall, one fewer than in his three previous starts combined. With only his second victory in five starts, he improved to 17-6 with a major league-leading nine complete games and league-leading 200 strikeouts.
About the only thing that thrilled him more than his pitching was his two-out single after the first of two Doran errors in the second inning. Martinez chopped at a two-strike pitch that bounced in front of Jackson, then over his head, landing between the mound and second base to score the second run of the inning.
The Dodgers increased the lead to 3-1 in the third when Hubie Brooks, despite an 0-and-2 count that included a foul ball off his left knee, lofted a fly to center to score Daniels from second. Both of Brooks' knees are now slightly swollen and sore.
"It's nice to be in a battle," said Brooks, who hit his 19th homer in the seventh inning. "There's a lot at stake and, if we stay close enough and get a few breaks, who knows?"
Kirk Gibson was removed from the game in the fourth inning after being hit above the right wrist by a pitch from Danny Jackson. Gibson experienced some swelling and will undergo X-rays today. Gibson is hitless in his last 19 at-bats, with two hits in his last 27. He stranded six runners in this series. . . . Kal Daniels, who had no comment Saturday night after his first-inning ejection, was still angry Sunday at umpire Gary Darling. "He stinks," Daniels said of Darling, who ejected him after Daniels argued a strike call in the first inning. . . . Ray Searage threw 65-70 pitches on the side Sunday and said he felt good. The reliever will throw simulated games Tuesday and Wednesday .
DODGER ATTENDANCE Sunday: 41,740
1990 (73 dates): 2,736,739
1989 (73 dates): 2,718,226