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Reds’ Oliver Throws the Book at Gross : Baseball: Dodger pitcher goes against conventional wisdom and catcher makes him pay with a three-run home run.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Kevin Gross would not give in.

It didn’t matter that Carlos Hernandez was furiously gesturing to him from behind home plate.

It didn’t matter that Tom Lasorda was shouting at him from the dugout.

Countless times this season, Gross has seen an entire team collapse behind him. So when it would have been wise to collapse Wednesday, he refused.

With a 3-and-0 count to catcher Joe Oliver in the fifth inning of a scoreless tie with the Cincinnati Reds, Gross threw him a fastball instead of a breaking ball.

About 390 feet later, Gross regretted it.

Oliver, whose wife had given birth earlier in the day, delivered a three-run home run, giving the Reds an eventual 3-2 victory before 31,053 at Riverfront Stadium.

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On his way back to the dugout, Oliver passed pitcher Greg Swindell, a .127 hitter who would have been the batter if Oliver had been walked with a breaking pitch.

“If you are thinking of smart, smart baseball . . . then I screwed up,” Gross said. “But we’re 20 games out. And I’m challenging him.”

Mitch Webster was challenged in a similar manner by Rob Dibble with two out and the tying run on third base in the ninth inning. He lost, striking out to halt the Dodgers’ road winning streak at two games.

Afterward, Hernandez said: “Next time, I will go to the mound to make sure we know what is going on.”

And Lasorda shook his head, saying, “You can’t make a mistake in a close game.”

But Gross, who had not given up a hit until two batters before Oliver, was sticking by his fastball.

“The starters have not gotten a lot of good decisions this season, and I’ve gotten the worst of it,” Gross said. “Under different circumstances, at 3-and-0 with the pitcher up next, I probably would have walked him . . . but I felt like I wanted to throw a strike.”

Such is the bunker mentality of a starting pitching staff that was among the best in the league until it realized that wasn’t going to be good enough.

In the last seven games, the starters have pressed their way to a 6.36 earned-run average.

Gross has done better than most with a 3.46 ERA in his last five starts, but he is 0-3 during that time.

He is 5-12 overall despite a 3.59 ERA after watching the offense score three runs or fewer in 14 of his 22 starts.

“If we scored runs tonight, maybe it wouldn’t have looked so bad,” Gross said. “But I’ll take credit for the pitch. And I’ll take the loss.”

After collecting 30 hits in the previous two days, the Dodgers managed only six singles against starter and winner Swindell (11-5). By the time Gross took the mound in the fifth inning, his offense had advanced one runner as far as second base.

After giving up only two walks in 4 1/3 innings, Gross lost an eight-pitch battle with rookie Jeff Branson, who broke up the no-hitter with a single to right. Two pitches later, he gave up a single to left by Dave Martinez.

“I wasn’t even thinking about a no-hitter, it was too early,” Gross said. “After the first hit, I just wanted to keep things quiet.”

But up stepped a man who had spent all day around noise.

Oliver’s wife, Kim, gave birth to daughter Karrah at 2:40 p.m. Two hours later, Oliver arrived at the ballpark.

He flied out in his first at-bat. When the count went to 3-and-0 the next time, he was hoping for a fastball.

“A breaking ball, I stay off,” Oliver said. “I was looking for a fastball I could drive.”

Lasorda figured that would be the case, so he screamed a reminder to Gross.

“With the pitcher up next, we figured he would be swinging,” Lasorda said.

Moments later, Oliver had his eighth homer and the Dodgers were headed for their 65th defeat.

And a baby girl had a couple of neat souvenirs.

“I kept the ball from the home run, and I kept the ball from the last pitch,” Oliver said. “I think they’ll make some pretty good birthday presents.”


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