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Karros Leads Way to Solo Place at Top : Dodgers: First baseman hits his 23rd home run as L.A. defeats the Pirates, 4-1, stands alone atop NL West.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dodger announcer Vin Scully gave first baseman Eric Karros a new nickname Sunday--Mr. Clutch.

Karros, who hit consecutive game-winning home runs last Monday and Tuesday, came through in the clutch again, providing the difference with a two-run homer in the sixth inning as the Dodgers defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates, 4-1, before an announced crowd of 38,017 at Dodger Stadium.

Karros, who has homered in four of the last seven games and eight of 17, drilled a line-drive home run into the left-field box seats as the Dodgers overcame a 1-0 deficit and took a one-game lead in the National League West over the Colorado Rockies, who lost, 3-2, to the Atlanta Braves.

“It’s great to be in first place, but it’s better to be in first place on Oct. 1 or 2 than Aug. 13,” Karros said. “We’ve still got a long way to go. Just as easy as we made up four or five games, we have to realize that we still have to play good baseball.”

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Overlooked in the voting for the All-Star game, Karros could be a contender for the league most valuable player award if he continues to produce. He has driven in 22 runs in his last 17 games.

“In the past week I came up in situations where if you get a hit you have the opportunity to drive in some runs and things have gone well for me this week,” Karros said. “If you get a lot of opportunities, you’re going to come through once in a while.”

Karros comes through more often than that.

He went three for five with four RBIs and two game-tying hits in Saturday night’s 11-10 victory over the Pirates in 11 innings, has 23 homers, tying a career high, and a team-best 75 RBIs.

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In the eighth inning Sunday, with the Dodgers leading, 2-1, the Pirates intentionally walked Karros after Mitch Webster’s two-out triple to get to left fielder Roberto Kelly, who was hitless in his first three at-bats.

But Kelly tripled to right to drive in two runs as the Dodgers swept the Pirates for the first time since April 16-18, 1993.

“Karros is having a big year for them, and he’s having it at the right time because they’re in the middle of a pennant race,” Pirate Manager Jim Leyland said.

Dodger closer Todd Worrell struck out the side on nine pitches in the ninth inning for his 24th save in 25 chances.

Worrell, who has struck out the side in the ninth inning in each of his last two appearances, needs five saves to break the team record of 28 set by Jay Howell in 1989.

“Worrell has been just super,” Manager Tom Lasorda said. “I can’t find words to express how I feel about the job he’s doing.”

Worrell said he doesn’t concentrate on strikeouts.

“I know I’ve struck out a lot of guys the last couple outings, but I don’t try to do it,” Worrell said. “I go for the punchout when I get a guy in position for it.

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“I just had everything working for me. I wanted to contribute to this team getting into first place. In my career I know that I’ve done my best pitching when everything is on the line. It was fun to be able to be in the game that kicked us into first place by ourselves.”

Dodger starter Ramon Martinez (12-7) gave up one run and four hits in 6 2/3 innings to win for the first time in three starts.

Martinez gave up his 15th home run of the season when Pirate third baseman Jeff King drilled a three-and-two changeup into the left field box seats to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning.

But Karros came through in the clutch again, hitting a two-run homer off Pirate starter Denny Neagle (11-5) two innings later as the Dodgers won for the 18th time in their last 25 games.

“He’s been the backbone of the offense,” Worrell said of Karros. “He’s been tremendous. We seem to be able to get him at the plate in the most timely spots in the course of the game.

“When the game’s on the line and you’ve got to have a clutch hit, the guy produces.”

* A MARATHON VICTORY: In a game that began Saturday night, the Dodgers rallied to beat the Pirates, 11-10, in the 11th inning, with an unusual play by Pittsburgh’s catcher bringing it to an end. C11


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