Dodgers Relax, Win Last Game


The Dodgers showed up Sunday morning wearing dark sunglasses to protect their bleary eyes. They spoke softly to deflect the pounding headaches.

It was an honest-to-goodness championship hangover and, baby, did it ever feel good.

The Dodger veterans sat on the bench watching their "B" team defeat the San Diego Padres, 4-1, in a game that looked more like a spring-training game than a season finale.

But for the first time in seven years, the Dodgers actually have something to play for in October, earning the right Saturday night by clinching the National League West Division championship.

The only Dodger regulars in the starting lineup at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium were center fielder Brett Butler and first baseman Eric Karros, both wanting to stay in the game long enough to bat .300 for the season.

Butler, who began the game batting .299, achieved his goal with a first-inning single, and was lifted for a pinch-runner. Karros, who also was hitting .299, went hitless in his first two at-bats, and came out of the game in the fifth with a .298 batting average, with 32 homers and 105 RBIs.

"It would have been nice if they both could do it," said Reggie Smith, Dodger hitting coach, "but it was still a special year for Eric, especially for what he had to go through. There's no one who works harder and wants it more than he does.

"Eric Karros had a great year, and is an MVP candidate, but people don't know what went into that. He understands what winning is all about."

For the most part, it was a day of rest and relaxation for a team that went through a grueling stretch. The only other regular to appear was second baseman Delino DeShields, who was forced into duty when Garey Ingram suffered torn knee cartilage in the seventh inning while sliding into second base.

"The guy's been pinch-running for a month," DeShields joked, "and now he has to go hurt his leg. But, ah, it was all right. At least we won [the division] outright. We didn't win it on percentage points or anything. Now we can start playing the real games."

The Dodgers (78-66), who finished the season winning 17 of their final 23 games, will open the first round of the National League playoffs Tuesday in a best-of-five series against the Cincinnati Reds at Dodger Stadium. The Reds have lost 18 of their last 31 games since Aug. 30, including the last 10 games they played on grass.

"We're going to win," said Dodger left fielder Roberto Kelly, who played with the Reds in 1993 and the first two months of the 1994 season. "If I had to pick anybody besides us, I'd like to see them win, but it ain't going to happen."

The Dodgers will tell you how much they respect the Reds, but certainly, there is no fear. They will have Ramon Martinez, Ismael Valdes and Hideo Nomo pitching the first three games of the series, and that could put a scare into any team.

"We know they're a good team, and they're an aggressive team," said Martinez, "but I like our chances."

Who could blame him? Martinez is 2-0 with a 1.93 earned-run average against the Reds this season and has not lost to them since June 14, 1992.

"They're probably the best team in the National League this year," DeShields said, "but it really doesn't matter. I feel we've got as good a chance as anyone. Dodger Stadium will be rocking."

Said shortstop Chad Fonville: "We know it won't be easy. They've got a great club. They've got great pitching and a lot of speed. We just have to jump on them early and get them down."

The Dodgers might not be favored, and perhaps few give them a chance, but then, who believed they'd win the 1988 World Series?

"To beat them, we can't make mistakes," Manager Tom Lasorda said. "They've got speed. They've got power. They've got pitching. But you know something, so do we."

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