They call him the mayor, so talkative and likable is Jim Gott, who led the Dodgers with 25 saves last season in a role he was given because of injuries to Todd Worrell.
This season, though, has been a story of frustration. Gott has struggled, at times showing his prowess of last season--but only glimpses of it.
Why he was on the mound again Wednesday night at Mile High Stadium was hard to say--he had pitched in three of the last four games. But he was out there in the eighth inning, trying to preserve a 5-2 lead over the Colorado Rockies before presumably turning the ball over to--who else?--Darren Dreifort.
This time, however, Gott was throwing his breaking ball so well that he stayed for the ninth, throwing two perfect innings and earning his first save.
It was the eighth victory in nine games for the Dodgers, putting them back in sole possession of first place in the National League West.
"After last season, I came out this spring as if I had to prove things," said Gott, who is 5-1 with a 4.37 earned-run average. "I said things I don't normally say, like I wanted the closer role rather than them just handing the job to Todd, and then I felt like I had to go out and back it up. I was going out and getting behind batters 3-0 and helping guys make ballclubs in spring training.
"Tonight, I was fatigued going into the eighth inning, but I feel like the things I have done out there have put extra pressure on the bullpen. (Manager) Tommy (Lasorda) came up to me after the eighth inning and gave me a pep talk. He knows I have had trouble in the past with Howard Johnson, and he told me he was sending me out there in the ninth just to get this guy out. That pumped me up."
It was Kevin Gross (3-1) who had kept the Dodgers in the game until then, having put together his third consecutive solid performance. In six innings, he gave up four hits, walked three and struck out eight, giving him 56 strikeouts this season and keeping him among the league leaders. He stiffened up a little during the sixth inning, when the Dodgers scored five runs to move ahead, 5-0.
"He took a long time to get loose, but he battled and threw extremely well," pitching coach Ron Perranoski said.
Through five innings, the only hit Gross allowed was a bloop single to Johnson, who eventually became Gross' nemesis. Twice, Johnson, who was two for three, got as far as third base before Gross pitched out of the jam. But in the sixth inning, with the Dodgers leading, 5-0, Johnson succeeded when he tripled home Andres Galarraga, who had singled, and then scored on a single by Charlie Hayes.
The Dodgers' big inning came in the top of the sixth, when they scored five runs on five hits and three walks, knocking out Steve Reed, who had relieved starter Willie Blair (0-2). Blair was filling in for Marvin Freeman, who was scratched because of a respiratory condition. Delino DeShields, who also made a couple of solid defensive plays, and Mike Piazza started the inning with consecutive singles, then scored on Tim Wallach's double, his 11th.
Henry Rodriguez walked, and Eric Karros, who was two for four, hit a run-scoring single to center.
Raul Mondesi, who was two for four and extended his hitting streak to 10 games, followed with a run-scoring double off the left-field wall. During his streak, Mondesi is hitting .432 with three home runs and nine runs batted in.
Reliever Mike Munoz walked DeShields for the fifth run.
Through the first four innings, Piazza failed in three attempts to throw out base-stealers. Last season, Piazza caught more baserunners than any catcher in the majors. He caught 58 of 166, a 35% ratio and a Dodger franchise record. But this season, Piazza has caught only seven of 31 runners, a 23% ratio.
"We have quite a few guys on our pitching staff who are slow to the plate, and Mike thinks he has to be super quick, so he's rushing the throws," bullpen coach Mark Cresse said. "He'll be OK. He's got the ability to throw a lot better than this. Our pitchers have to work on this, also."