Strawberry Turns Other Cheek : Dodgers: He goes four for five, inspired by crowd's hostility in 5-2 victory over the Braves. L.A. returns to first place by half a game.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Darryl Strawberry stepped onto the field at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium on Friday, a stadium filled with hostility.

Huge signs were adorned with strawberries and insults. There were boos from children barely old enough to hold a toy tomahawk.

And there was the loudest, longest taunt of "Darr-rryl, Darr-rryl" that has been heard since he became a Dodger.

"Actually, to hear that was kind of exciting," Strawberry said. "It's like, all these people know me."

Nine innings later, they knew him a lot better. He had four hits, including a home run, to lead the Dodgers to a 5-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves in the first of a three-game showdown between the top teams in the National League West.

Said Dodger shortstop Alfredo Griffin: "When everybody comes to yell at Darryl, when everybody is saying, 'OK, let's see you do it . . . that's when Darryl does it. This time of year there may be nine men on the field, but the focus is always on Darryl. And that's just where he wants it."

Playing before 45,769, the Braves' biggest home crowd this season, the Dodgers found themselves back in first place by half a game with 20 games remaining.

The Braves, even with ace Tom Glavine on the mound, were taking bad swings, hitting weak ground balls, and watching their seven-game winning streak disappear as they got only four hits against Mike Morgan and Roger McDowell.

Strawberry, meanwhile, was setting an example of how to act in a pennant race.

"Like Reggie Jackson," Griffin said.

"Like, you can't throw him nothing he can't hit," Mitch Webster said.

"Like, the best way to pitch him is to duck," Bob Ojeda said.

--In the first inning against Glavine, who led the league with 18 victories and in earned-run-average (2.32), Strawberry singled up the middle to score Brett Butler with the first run.

--In the sixth inning against Glavine, who had given up two runs in 26 innings against the Dodgers this season, Strawberry made the score 2-2 with his 24th homer. It was his second pressure home run in four at-bats in two games.

--In the seventh inning against Glavine, Strawberry singled to left field against a second-base-side shift by the infield. This moved Mike Sharperson to third, and he scored on Eddie Murray's fly ball to give the Dodgers a 3-2 lead they never lost.

--In the ninth inning, against relief pitcher Randy St. Claire, Strawberry punched a ground ball to right field for his first four-hit game since May 18, 1988.

The Dodgers have won nine of 13 games against the Braves this season, including six of seven here.

"I told you Fred (Claire, Dodger executive vice president) didn't make a mistake signing me," Strawberry said with a smile.

In his last 29 games, Strawberry has batted .363 with eight home runs and 37 runs batted in. Since the start of this most important trip of the season, Strawberry is batting .406 with 15 RBIs in nine games.

"Awesome," said Manager Tom Lasorda.

Lasorda actually didn't say much to his veteran team Friday. The text of his pregame speech?

"Do I have to talk to you guys? I don't think I have to talk to you guys."

Said Griffin: "Nobody in here was afraid to play."

Even after they congregated in the dugout before taking the field, when the fans rose in unison and executed the "tomahawk chop," the Dodgers didn't flinch.

They simply swung their arms back.

"I was telling the fans, you all can tomahawk all you want now . . . but we'll see if you are tomahawking after the game," Dodger outfielder Kal Daniels said.

Daniels had two doubles and an RBI before leaving the game in the seventh inning to protect his knees.

With Murray's two hits and one RBI, the middle of the Dodgers order combined for eight of the Dodgers' 11 hits while driving in four of the five runs. The other run was scored by Juan Samuel, who in the eighth inning hit his first home run since July 15.

"All of us three guys have not been hot at the same time all year, but we know we got to do it now," Daniels said. "We know that every game is like the last game."

Remaining steady despite the constant noise and 91-degree heat, Morgan pitched every inning Friday as if it were his last. He was rewarded with his 12th victory, tying a career high.

"We play in front of these kinds of crowds all the time, this was no big deal," said Morgan, who is 2-0 in his last two starts with a 2.02 ERA. "The main thing was to take them out of the game early."

Morgan lost a 1-0 lead when he gave up singles to Otis Nixon and Terry Pendleton and a sacrifice fly by David Justice in the first inning.

But he retired eight of nine before Justice hit his 19th homer to lead off the fourth and give the Braves a 2-1 lead. Morgan then retired 12 of the next 13, with only two hitting the ball out of the infield in fair territory.

He was then replaced by McDowell, who threw two scoreless innings to get his sixth save, his third as a Dodger.

All of that pitching set the stage for Strawberry, who says that every day, he can't wait for tomorrow.

"All during the first part of the season, I knew there would be a time in the second half when something like this could happen," Strawberry said.

"I knew I would get to feeling good, and swinging good, and coming into my favorite time of the year.

"Well, now it's happening. I just hope everybody can see it and understand it."

After Friday, many more do.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
66°