New City, but Same Story for Dodgers : Baseball: L.A. fails to hold lead against the Reds and loses fourth in a row, 10-6. Griffin breaks cheekbone in freak collision with Larkin in the sixth inning.


That precarious ledge known as first place, a spot where the Dodgers performed cartwheels earlier this summer, has suddenly begun to frighten them.

It seems the harder they hang on, the closer they come to losing their grip.

Playing the Cincinnati Reds Monday night before a Riverfront Stadium crowd of 34,997 that acted as if this was the World Series, the Dodgers took a three-run lead they thought they could not lose. Then they lost it. Again. Just as they had the three previous games in Houston.


With ace Ramon Martinez wilting on the mound, and a veteran defense confusing itself in the field, the Dodgers allowed the Reds a six-run third inning and eventually lost, 10-6.

Four consecutive Dodger losses, all featuring blown leads of some sort, have allowed the second-place Atlanta Braves to pull within 2 1/2 games. Nobody has been closer to the Dodgers since June 12.

“I try not to watch (the scoreboard),” Darryl Strawberry said quietly. “But I’m quite sure other players around here are watching.”

In taking the first of a four-game series, the Reds jolted the Dodgers just as the knee of Cincinnati shortstop Barry Larkin jolted Alfredo Griffin’s head in the sixth inning.

Griffin suffered a broken right cheekbone from the collision with Larkin, who had just thrown out Griffin at second. The two ran into each other as Larkin’s momentum carried him toward second and Griffin lost his balance after sliding over second base. When Griffin attempted to regain his balance his cheek ran into Larkin’s knee.

And so the the Dodgers must endure at least the start of this pennant race with a rookie shortstop.

Jose Offerman was recalled from triple-A Albuquerque to replace Griffin, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a .244 average while playing excellent in the field.

“(Offerman) still had some little things to work on . . . we just hope he overcame those things when he was down there,” Lasorda said of Offerman, who helped the Dodgers to a 9-4 record during a brief major league stint this year.

Joining Griffin on the sidelines in the sixth inning was Juan Samuel, who suffered a strained right hamstring running to first base and could miss several games.

“It puts more pressure on us to lose two key guys in our lineup like that,” Strawberry said. “We can just hope they get back soon.”

Hope has become an overused emotion for the Dodgers, who have lost 13 of their last 15 road games and are 9-14 since the All-Star break.

“We know it can’t keep going the way it’s going,” Mike Sharperson said.

That’s what they thought in the third inning Monday night after they had taken a 3-0 lead. Then Martinez, attempting to become the major league’s first 15-game winner, allowed a leadoff home run to Glenn Braggs.

One out later, Martinez gave up a single to winning pitcher Jose Rijo, then a single to Barry Larkin, but things still seemed OK when Billy Hatcher hit an apparent double-play grounder to the right of first base.

Except Eddie Murray and catcher Mike Scioscia had picked that particular play to call for apickoff. So Murray was running toward the base, and when Martinez missed the sign and threw to home plate, Murray was caught out of position.

“Maybe if I get that play, it helps me,” Martinez said.

That hit scored one run, then Hal Morris tied it with a run-scoring double. Martinez could have kept it tied when Chris Sabo hit a grounder between shortstop and third base.

But Lenny Harris, using his great range and aggressiveness, chased the ball so far to his left that he and shortstop Griffin nearly collided as the ball skipped between them and into left field.

“I do my best to get every ball I can get out there, and I went so far . . . then I saw Alfredo behind me so I just stopped short of getting it,” Harris said, shaking his head. “It’s OK. Tomorrow, I’ll get it. We’ll all start getting it.”

Said Martinez: “I think that maybe that was one out for me.”

The third-place Reds moved to within 5 1/2 games of first.

“It was important to win this first game,” said Lou Piniella, the Reds’ manager. “There’s a lot of baseball left yet. Pennants are won in August and September. If you don’t play well in those two months, even if you have the lead, you’ll get caught.”

Thus far in August, the Dodgers are 0-4.

The Dodgers did do one thing that seemed to work Monday--they altered the middle of the order to finally put Kal Daniels in the No. 3 spot for the first time this season while putting Murray in the fifth slot for the first time. Daniels, Strawberry and Murray combined to go four for 12 with three RBIs.