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Dodgers Lose a Bit of Steam, 8-2 : Baseball: Benes stays hot, limits them to seven hits in seven innings. L.A. lead is 1 1/2 games.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite what many were beginning to think, the Dodgers are not yet prepared to clinch the National League West championship.

Not as long as they still must catch ground balls and face Andy Benes.

On a night when they could have expanded their lead to 2 1/2 games over the Atlanta Braves, the Dodgers lost ground and a bit of their swagger Wednesday night with a three-error, 8-2 loss to the San Diego Padres before 25,668 at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

Coupled with the Braves’ doubleheader split with the Cincinnati Reds, the Dodgers’ lead is 1 1/2 games with nine games remaining.

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“A blown opportunity,” Brett Butler said, shaking his head. “Most of the guys are looking at this like a blown opportunity.

“This night proves that this race is going right down to the wire, right down to the end.”

Butler was reminded that long before Wednesday he had been predicting the race would be decided when the Dodgers play their final three games of the season against the San Francisco Giants in Candlestick Park.

“Yeah,” Butler acknowledged. “But I was hoping I would be wrong.”

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The Dodgers hope they aren’t distracted by the scoreboard again, as they appeared to be Wednesday when the second game of the Braves’ doubleheader didn’t end until the Dodgers’ game was in the fifth inning.

“After the Braves won the first game, it slowed our momentum,” Lenny Harris said. “Then the roar of the crowd (as the score kept changing during the Braves’ second game) kept us off balance. We didn’t concentrate. We didn’t do things we were capable of.”

Said Darryl Strawberry: “The main thing about tonight is, we have to put it behind us as quick as we can, because there is no way we can ever bring it back.”

Not that they would ever want to bring it back.

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Their offense scored once in the first inning, but was stymied for the next six innings by Benes, the hottest pitcher in the National League and the Dodgers’ continuing nightmare.

After holding the Dodgers to one run and seven hits in seven innings, Benes improved his earned-run average against them to 1.66 in nine starts.

Benes has won his last 10 decisions in a span of 13 starts, the longest winning streak in the league in two years.

And the Dodgers haven’t even seen the end of it yet--Benes will face them next week in San Diego.

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“The guy is definitely on a roll,” said Butler, who had one of the Dodgers’ hits against him.

Bob Ojeda didn’t pitch much worse, but he allowed two unearned runs in the first inning after a bobbled grounder by second baseman Juan Samuel and a wild throw by replacement shortstop Harris.

Ojeda allowed another unearned run in the fifth inning after third baseman Mike Sharperson missed a bad-hop grounder.

The three Dodger errors equaled the total in their previous eight games combined. It was only the second time since the All-Star break that the Dodgers have committed more than two errors in a game.

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But it is the third time in 10 games they have committed more than two errors in a game, bringing back memories of poor early season fielding. Instead of blaming it on the absence of shortstop Alfredo Griffin, who is out indefinitely because of a sore knee, Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda partially blamed the errors on the playing field, which was used for an NFL game Sunday.

“The field looked like a golf course with nothing but divots.”

Harris, making his seventh start in place of Griffin, said: “I’m confident at shortstop. I just think we were due for a game like tonight.”

Eddie Murray staked the Dodgers to a 1-0 lead in the first inning with a single for his 94th run batted in. But Ojeda and his teammates lost that lead within minutes.

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In the fourth inning, McGriff’s home run made it 3-1. Then the Dodgers gave up another run in the fifth after Sharperson charged but missed a grounder by leadoff-hitting Craig Shipley.

Soon Shipley was on second and Benes was on first after Ojeda tried to throw Benes’ bunt to second.

Harris dropped the ball, but judging from the way second base umpire Joe West made the call, Shipley had beaten the throw anyway. Darrin Jackson’s single to center eventually scored Benes.

“We have put games like this behind us before,” Samuel said. “We will just have to do it again.”

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BRAVES SPLIT: Atlanta gains half a game on the Dodgers after winning the first game of a doubleheader with the Cincinnati Reds, 2-1, and losing the second game, 10-9. Deion Sanders marks his return to baseball by stealing a base in the opener. C6

ARRESTED: Atlanta rookies Brian Hunter and Keith Mitchell both played Wednesday, less than 12 hours after being released following their arrests in separate drunk-driving incidents. Baseball Report, C8.


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