Mondesi Show Again Is a Hit for Dodgers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Dodgers consider Raul Mondesi's birthplace one of the greatest breaks in franchise history.

You see, if Mondesi were born in the United States and not the Dominican Republic, they don't think he would be playing for them. They don't believe he'd even be playing baseball.

"If he was born in this country," Dodger hitting coach Reggie Smith said, "he'd probably be a running back in the NFL for some team. You look at his size, strength and quickness, and you think of Barry Sanders or Emmitt Smith. Mondesi could have been that good."

Instead Mondesi is playing right field, and after watching him lead the Dodgers to a 7-1 victory Wednesday night over the Montreal Expos before a paid crowd of 36,694 at Dodger Stadium,they wonder what they would do without him.

"He's the most exciting player in the league, without a doubt," Dodger first baseman Eric Karros said. "He can do it all. You name it, and he can do it."

It may be sacrilegious, particularly with the Dodgers' old-timers' game scheduled Saturday, but a few long-time members of the organization believe Mondesi might prove to be the greatest player in Dodger history.

"The talent is so exceptional that no one can help but notice," said Fred Claire, executive vice president. "You see things from him that you just don't see from other players. Those kind of players just don't walk onto the field that often.

"There's no question to his ability, but it's unfair to compare him to Roberto Clemente or anyone else. Come back in 10 of 12 years.

"But right now, he's enjoying every minute of it, and so are we."

Wednesday night, Mondesi helped provide Dodger starter Hideo Nomo (2-1) with his second consecutive victory and enable the Dodgers (20-20) to reach .500 for the first time since May 17.

Want power? He hit a two-run homer off Expo starter Jeff Fassero into the center-field seats for his 10th homer of the year, his sixth homer in the first inning.

Want speed? He hit a routine grounder to rookie second baseman Mark Grudzielanek and beat it out for an infield hit.

Want defense? Expo infielder Tom Foley led off the fifth inning with a liner into the right-center-field gap. He rounded first and was nearly halfway to second when he stopped and backpedaled to first base because he had seen Mondesi cut the ball off.

Mondesi, saying later he thought Foley had an easy double, started to laugh and soon Foley was joining him. Foley may have run on perhaps anyone else in the league, but he wasn't about to be another victim of Mondesi's arm.

"I just like to have fun," Mondesi said, "and right now, I'm having a lot of fun. It helps with Mike Piazza behind me in the lineup. The pitchers have got to pitch to me, because they don't want to take a chance with Mike."

Mondesi is batting .563 with six runs, one double, one triple and a homer since Piazza's return, and not so coincidentally, the Dodgers have won all four games.

They have won seven of eight.

The Dodgers, who also got a two-run double from Tim Wallach in the fourth inning and run-scoring singles by Delino DeShields and Jose Offerman in the sixth, provided Nomo plenty of comfort.

It wasn't a dominant performance by Nomo. At times he struggled. He wound up giving up six hits and one earned run in eight innings, walking four batters and striking out four.

Nomo, who escaped a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the first inning, had his shutout ruined by Darrin Fletcher's one-out homer in the eighth inning. Yet, even if Nomo had pitched a scoreless eighth, Dodger pitching Coach Dave Wallace said Nomo would not have been permitted to start the ninth.

"We wanted him to have the shutout," Wallace said, "but he had already thrown 129 pitches. We had already made the decision that was his last inning.

"But tonight, he really showed me something. He made the adjustments we talked about and really picked up the tempo."

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