Cats in L.A. Hats Have Come Back

Dodger chances of playing in the playoffs are coming to a head. Oh, the places they could go!

Pittsburgh is already in, and the Pirate manager, Jim Leyland, is going around singing in the clubhouse like one of Bill Murray's lounge lizards. What remains to be seen is what sort of voice Italian crooner Tommy (Ol' Dodger Blue Eyes) Lasorda has, or whether he will feel like shooby-dooby-dooing come October.

Biggest worries for the Dodgers last April?

1. Orel Hershiser.

2. Third base.

3. Backup catcher.

4. Juan Samuel.

5. Grilled hot dogs.

Biggest worries for the Dodgers six months later?

1. San Francisco.

2. San Diego.

3. Atlanta.

4. Alfredo Griffin.

5. Tony Danza.

Should everything work out for the best, the Dodgers have a chance to go to their 10th World Series since moving from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. Should everything work out for the worst, the Braves have a chance to go to their first World Series since moving from Milwaukee to Atlanta.

Lurking in the background are the Minnesota Twins, who have been waiting now for more than a quarter of a century for another World Series crack at the Dodgers. Last time the Twins opened a Series against the Dodgers, their starting pitcher was a guy named Mudcat. This time, their starting pitcher would probably be a cat named Morris.

And, unless the Boston Red Sox do something in a hurry, the Dodgers would not play a postseason road game on real grass. Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Toronto all use that same artificial stuff that (ask Marcus Allen) professional athletes love so much.

Here in Los Angeles, we grow our own grass. They just won't let us water it. In town for the weekend are the San Francisco Giants, who want the Dodgers to win the National League pennant about as much as they want Joe Montana to sign next season with the Raiders. This could be the last chance for the Giants to do something for the people of San Francisco before they pack their bags and become the second-favorite sports team of San Jose, a hockey town.

Roger Craig, back in better health and spirits, we trust, will be busy in the Giant dugout this weekend trying to outthink Lasorda. He should know that Lasorda is pulling out all the stops, even risking fines from the league president's office for consorting with--the nerve of him-- actors.

Lasorda, who is superstitious-and-a-half, does not invite Hollywood celebrities into his office the way he once did before Peter Ueberroth declared them undesirables. During last weekend's combat with the Braves, however, the Dodgers handed their bats and mitts and smelly socks to guest batboy Danza, who apparently doesn't get enough of this sort of thing on TV being Judith Light's live-in maid.

Now, personally, I would rather have Judy hand me my bat than Tony, but for some reason the Dodgers decided that Danza did such a commendable job during Saturday's victory over Atlanta, they absolutely insisted he return for the next day's game as well. Well, Tony was so obliging that he was a no-show at a house party he happened to be throwing that day at his own house.

The Dodgers won again, which probably means that they want their celebrity batboy to keep coming back. But Bill White, the National League president, ordered the Dodgers to pay a $500 fine for having Danza in their dugout. So, there you have it--Atlanta has its drug and DUI scandals, Los Angeles has this.

Lasorda has more important things to worry about. For one thing, he has to figure out whom to use at shortstop, whether Alfredo Griffin is fit enough to take his usual position in his Michael Crawford-model mask, or whether Lenny Harris will have to play there instead, as he did at San Diego, giving the Dodgers a lot more offense but a lot less defense.

One of the beauties of the Dodgers this season has been their defensive prowess up the middle, with Mike Scioscia catching (you, too, Gary Carter), Griffin at shortstop and Brett Butler in center field. When the Dodgers were wallowing in fifth place a few years back, their all-thumbs defense was chiefly responsible. By the public, Griffin is probably the least appreciated Dodger.

So many things have gone the Dodgers' way this season--the comebacks (from varying situations) of Hershiser, Carter, Samuel and the very valuable Jim Gott; the sharp hitting of this Mike Sharperson person; the procurement (take a bow, Fred Claire) of hired hands Roger McDowell and Steve Wilson, and the second-half velocity and ferocity of Kevin Gross.

The race to the wire will be fun, and the only bad part is that Atlanta must do without one of its very best outfielders, while the Dodgers do without their very best batboy.

Baseball is a game of grinches.

DODGERS vs. GIANTSTONIGHT'S GAME Tim Belcher (9-9) vs. Bud Black (11-15) Time: 7:30. TV: ESPN.

Radio (all games): KABC (790), KWKW (1330).

SATURDAY'S GAME Ramon Martinez (17-11) vs. Trevor Wilson (11-11) Time: Noon. TV: Channel 2.

SUNDAY'S GAME Mike Morgan (14-9) vs. Bryan Hickerson (2-1) Time: 5 p.m. TV: ESPN.

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