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For Daniels, 270 Feet Is a Marathon Run

So, Juan Samuel steps to the plate with Kal Daniels on first base . . . ninth inning . . . one out . . . game tied, 1-1 . . . Dodgers desperate for a run . . . any old kind of a run. . . .

And the poor guy on first base has had five knee operations, so somehow somebody has to hit the baseball somewhere far enough away so he can run 270 feet, all the way to home plate.

You’re looking for Samuel to bunt here, right?

You’re looking then for a pinch-runner for Daniels, right?

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“I know I was looking for the bunt,” Samuel said.

He never saw one.

What Sammy saw instead was a pitch across the outside corner of the plate, a pitch that he love-tapped into right-center field.

And around and around went the merry-go-round.

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Daniels huffing and puffing and straining . . . begging those knees for a few strides more . . . spinning around the turns like an aging thoroughbred at Santa Anita.

Samuel huffing and puffing behind him . . . one of the team’s fastest men, sprinting as though he were out there alone . . . just in case somebody threw out Daniels in front of him.

In the outfield, Atlanta’s David Justice juggled the ball. By the time he threw it back to the infield, Kal Daniels--whose knees never felt better--was hopscotching across home plate, and Juan Samuel--whose teammates never felt better--was running into everyone’s arms.

This was how a classic game of baseball concluded Saturday night at Dodger Stadium. Were this a World Series game, people would be watching videos of it for years.

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Until the thrilling climax, the Dodgers must have wondered how and when they would ever get a run.

Let’s roll the first seven frames of this Dodger highlight film, shall we?

(Then burn it forever.)

First inning: Uh, nothing much. Darryl Strawberry, two-out single.

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Second inning: Nope. Two guys whiff.

Third inning: Nada . Three up, three grounders.

Fourth inning: Sorry. Side retired, 1-2-3.

Fifth inning: Dodger gets on base; gets picked off.

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Sixth inning: Two more whiffs.

Seventh inning: One ball out of the infield, a single.

All this against Charlie Leibrandt, who last beat the Dodgers . . . uh, in his dreams.

Why were the Dodgers suddenly scoring more like a World Cup team than a World Series team?

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Possibly because Atlanta has good left-handed pitchers. Possibly because the Dodger lineup had five left-handed batters.

Tom Lasorda is committed to use his best players, including three lefty-hitting outfielders. And Alfredo Griffin has to be at shortstop, this being no time to be experimenting with anyone else.

Lenny Harris was excused for the weekend in favor of Mike Sharperson, who bats right-handed. But Lasorda went with Mike Scioscia behind the plate, which miffed Gary Carter.

For much of the season, Carter has been a starter against left-handed pitchers. But Gary, who in April was lucky just to be given a uniform, down deep must understand that Scioscia is still the Dodger catcher come crunch time.

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Like anybody who likes baseball, Carter hated the thought of not being part of a great game. He nearly was in the eighth inning, when the Dodgers came to life. It took two errors to resuscitate them, but by then, the Dodgers were so desperate for baserunners, they would have sent up Eddie Gaedel.

First came an error by Terry Pendleton, the only thing he did wrong all night. Next came an error by sidekick Rafael Belliard, whose low throw gave L.A. two men on.

Carter was about to pinch-hit with teammates on first and third, until Lasorda thought better of it and sent up the quicker Mitch Webster, someone less likely to tap into a rally-killing double play.

Webster whacked one into left field. Third base coach Joey Amalfitano asked the runner on third if he remembered where home plate was, then gave him directions just in case.

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By the time Daniels came huffing and puffing, one inning later, everybody on the Dodgers knew the way to home plate. And they all ran so hard, they almost beat Kal there.


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