Darren Dreifort heard the crowd of 23,271 at Candlestick Park on Thursday night, and how could he not? The San Francisco Giants, who had trailed by six runs at the start of the ninth inning, had just scored three runs to cut the Dodgers' lead to 9-6, a score that would stand.
Dreifort, who, like the Dodgers, has shown a propensity this season for keeping things interesting, had relieved Jim Gott, and once again, did his part.
With no one out and a runner on third, Dreifort gave up a fielder's choice for the Giants' final run, a soft liner to right and then hit Darren Lewis to load the bases.
"A crowd is a crowd; they are going to yell, no big deal," Dreifort said.
In the dugout, Manager Tom Lasorda watched with interest. With Todd Worrell sidelined, Dreifort, 21, has been anointed the closer.
"As long as he gets out of more jams than he gets into, that's fine with me," Lasorda said.
Dreifort came back to strike out Robby Thompson and Dave Martinez, and that was good, because Matt Williams, who hit his league-leading 13th homer Thursday, was on deck.
"I didn't know he was in the on-deck circle," said Dreifort, who earned his third save. "I didn't know where we were in the order."
The ninth-inning squirming in the Dodger dugout came long after the Dodgers had scored six runs in the fifth inning to take a 7-1 lead. Mike Piazza, who helped ruin an entire season for the Giants in their final game of 1993, continued his domination, when his two-run opposite-field homer started the scoring in the six-run fifth.
In the first of a four-game series that brought the Giants wanting revenge and the Dodgers wanting to reach the top of the division, Piazza drove in three runs and homered against Giant ace John Burkett (3-2). Burkett began the game with the third lowest earned-run average in the league and left in the fifth inning ranked among the rest.
Surprisingly, it was the Dodgers' ace of old, Ramon Martinez (1-2), who held the Giants to one run and two hits through the first six innings and also helped out with two hits, including a two-run double in the sixth.
Martinez, who has struggled this season, sailed quickly through the game until the seventh inning, when he gave up two runs, including a leadoff homer by Matt Williams. He needed help in the ninth after giving up two consecutive singles to start the inning and was relieved by Jim Gott, who didn't help at all.
Gott gave up two run-scoring hits to reduce the Dodgers' lead to four runs. Then in came Dreifort.
"Our bullpen is too good, I have no worries about our pitching at all--we are going to be fine," said Tim Wallach, who was two for five with a double. "Dreifort is cool. In that situation with the crowd and being here, it showed a lot of moxie."
Martinez, who earned his first victory, said before the game that all he wanted to do was go out and have a good outing, and it helped that he was facing the Giants, who have the worst offense in the league. But what helped Martinez more was the Dodgers' potent offense.
The Dodgers hit three home runs against three pitchers, with Eric Karros, who also singled and doubled, hitting his third of the year and Brett Butler a solo shot to right field for the Dodgers' final run.
"I love playing here at Candlestick," said Butler, who was three for four and scored three runs.
There is plenty at stake in this early-season series. The Dodgers began the series two games behind the Giants and in third place in the National League West with a chance to take over the top spot, which the Giants have held all season. This is the first meeting for either club against a division opponent.
But this was not quite the way the Giants wanted to start this series, with a loss and without Barry Bonds. Bonds, who was hit by a pitch Wednesday by the New York Mets' Eric Hillman, is sidelined on a day-to-day basis. X-rays and a CAT scan taken Thursday showed no broken bones in his injured right arm, and early indications were he will play sometime in the series.
But Bonds, despite seven home runs, has been struggling at the plate along with most of the regulars. Contrary to last season, when the Giants' offense was strong from the start, Williams and Willie McGee are the only regulars who have been hitting well. It has been the pitching and fielding that have kept the Giants in first place in the West, but not even Burkett could hold up against the Dodger's offense.
* WORRELL SIDELINED
The Dodger closer, suffering from a muscle strain in his left side, is put on the 15-day disabled list. C6