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Dodgers Sharpen Their Edge : Baseball: Ojeda pitches six scoreless innings and Sharperson hits run-scoring triple to beat the Reds, 2-0. L.A. lead over second-place Braves increases to 3 1/2 games.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Of all the close calls endured by Dodger pitcher Bob Ojeda during his 2-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds Wednesday, none turned out better than the one he made to Los Angeles after the game.

Sitting on an equipment truck with a clubhouse phone in his hand, he broke into a smile as wide as the nearby Ohio River.

It was his overdue pregnant wife, Ellen. She had not had their baby.

“The baby’s hanging in there,” Ojeda said, beaming. “Doctors are going to take him out on Friday. And I’m going to be there.”

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All of the endings for the Dodgers were happy Wednesday, what with Ojeda’s scoreless six innings, Mike Sharperson’s run-scoring triple and Roger McDowell’s second save in two nights before 37,016 at Riverfront Stadium.

With the Atlanta Braves losing, the Dodgers’ lead increased to 3 1/2 games.

“This is starting to get fun,” said Ojeda, who gave up two hits and struck out seven. “You lead by six or seven games and it’s like, irrelevant. But the Braves got our lead down to 2 1/2 games, and we had to start paying attention.

“Maybe it made us put a little pressure on ourselves. And that’s not always so bad.”

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That was easy for Ojeda to say after the game had ended.

Because his wife had shown no signs of labor, Ojeda calmly decided to take the mound, but after six scoreless innings he was questioning his sanity.

By then he had been forced out of the game with a pain in his right side, he could not find a working phone to call his wife, and there was no television in the visiting clubhouse training room.

“I guess Marge (Schott, Reds owner) didn’t want to pay for cable,” he said. “So I was sitting there trying to listen on the radio and wondering about my wife and . . . well, I’ve got a brain like Jell-O anyway.”

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Then, in a change from a season in which he has gone 9-8 with a 3.50 earned-run average, Ojeda was struck by luck.

--Sharperson, after striking out twice with runners on third base against converted starter Randy Myers, drove a first-pitch fastball into the right-field corner with Brett Butler on first base in the top of the seventh inning. Butler scored, Sharperson scored on Kal Daniels’ fly ball, and Ojeda became eligible for the victory.

--Ojeda learned from doctors that he was only suffering from a mild strain on his right side, which should not keep him from making his next start Monday at Dodger Stadium against the Reds.

--Reliever Kevin Gross pitched two scoreless innings, then McDowell faced only three batters to finish the Reds in the ninth.

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Barry Larkin started the inning by beating out a bouncer to Lenny Harris. But Harris caught a grounder by Bill Doran, wisely tagged Larkin, then overcame Larkin’s upright block to throw the ball over his head to first base to complete the double play.

Chris Sabo grounded out after a good throw by shortstop Jose Offerman, ending the game shortly before Ojeda reached his wife, who had been at the doctor’s office undergoing her second stress test that day. This will be her first child.

“There is nothing in the world more important than having a baby, and certainly not this game,” Ojeda said. “But because a first child has a tendency to be late, and because nothing was happening with the labor, I figured I could be here. Something happens, I’m just a plane ride away.

“But then she had to go in for those stress tests today, I started worrying. I was able to put it out of my mind when I was on the mound, but as soon as I got off the mound. . . . “

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The Reds would never have guessed that Ojeda was distracted, particularly not after he ended the sixth inning by striking out Sabo with a fastball on the outside corner with runners on first and second in the sixth.

Sabo glared and shouted at plate umpire Billy Hohn, but Ojeda said he might have done the same thing if it wasn’t called a strike.

“That’s called a ‘Bitch Pitch,’ ” Ojeda said. “The batter complains if he doesn’t get it, and the pitcher complains if he doesn’t get it.”

One person who was not publicly complaining was Jay Howell, who has been relieved of his stopper duties by McDowell the last two nights after suffering consecutive losses in Houston. Because Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda is known for going with his hottest pitchers, this setup can change within days.

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Said Howell: “Right now it seems I’m backing him up and, hey, I know I had a couple of bad games in Houston. But I’ve had bad games before, and that will change.”


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