BASEBALL PLAYOFFS : In First, Dodgers Don't Succeed : NL playoffs: Reds build four-run lead in opening inning and roll to a 7-2 victory.


Let's see now, the crowd at Dodger Stadium wildly cheered the 14-year-old kid who ran onto the field and obtained Dodger right fielder Raul Mondesi's autograph in the middle of the game.

The fans were thoroughly entertained by the dancing Lance Ito look-alike in the upper deck, and applauded the 19-year-old who did cartwheels and slid headfirst into second base in the ninth inning.

Unfortunately, the smallest crowd in Los Angeles Dodger playoff history shelled out its hard-earned money to watch a baseball game that never materialized.

The Dodgers were smacked, 7-2, by the Cincinnati Reds in the first game of this best-of-five series in front of a paid crowd of 44,199.

The series may be only one game old, but already the Dodgers find themselves in real trouble. Ramon Martinez, their ace, got knocked out of the game after only 4 1/3 innings, and now they must find a way to defeat the Reds in three of the next four games.

"Well, we've had must-games before," Dodger center fielder Brett Butler said. "It seems like that's the character of this club. If there's ever a time to do it. . . ."

The real mystery, of course, was not why the Dodgers were losing, 7-0, by the fifth inning, or why Red starter Pete Schourek dominated them for seven innings, or even why the Reds were stealing bases in the ninth inning with a five-run lead.

It had nothing to do with the game, but everything to do with the crowd, the smallest for a Dodger postseason game since the 1955 World Series when they were playing at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. They actually drew larger crowds for 16 regular-season games this season.

Perhaps the Simpson verdict can explain some of the empty seats, but no one could justify the fans' crazy behavior. The only saving grace was that it wasn't ball night, saving the Dodgers from another possible forfeit.

"I guess I've seen it all now," Dodger left fielder Roberto Kelly said. "What's the deal here? You can just jump on the field and pick your own player."

Mondesi was standing in right field with one out in the ninth when the kid ran onto the field. He raced past Kelly, Butler, danced in front of Mondesi, and then whipped out one of Mondesi's baseball cards.

He asked for an autograph.

Mondesi, more startled than scared, grabbed the pen, signed the card, and nodded his head when the kid said thanks.

"I don't know what that guy was thinking," Mondesi said, "you never know. I was a little scared. You never know, he might be mad at me because I struck out two times."

Said first baseman Eric Karros: "I was a little surprised. We're signing autographs in right field. Come on, this isn't a card show."

Mondesi was politely told that it's not wise to sign autographs on the field, particularly since it might encourage others to do the same. The teen-ager who stopped in the bottom of the ninth didn't ask for any autographs, but he did do a mean cartwheel.

"I don't know where the security is," Red Manager Davey Johnson said, shaking his head.

Then again, Johnson knows exactly the disposition of his team. He knew it was imperative that the Reds leave Los Angeles with at least a split of the two games at Dodger Stadium, and now the pressure is squarely on the Dodgers.

"We don't want a split here now," Johnson said.

The Reds went up, 4-0, in the first inning while most of the fans were fighting through rush-hour traffic, and had a 7-0 lead in the fifth.

Martinez, who had not lost a game to the Reds since June 14, 1992, was battered for 10 hits and seven earned runs in only 4 1/3 innings. It was his worst start since July 2.

Martinez's nightmare began when Barry Larkin hit a one-out single and Ron Gant followed with another single to left, advancing Larkin to third. Martinez appeared that he might escape the jam when cleanup hitter Reggie Sanders fouled out to Mike Piazza.

That brought up first baseman Hal Morris, who would haunt Martinez. He hit a two-run double into the left-center gap. Benito Santiago, the other catcher in the series, then followed with a two-run homer into the left-field seats.

Just like that, it was 4-0.

* SURE SCHOUREK: The New York Mets may have given up on Pete Schourek, but he pitched the Reds to this victory. C4

* SHAKY START: Dodger starter Ramon Martinez didn't look like the pitcher who had a no-hitter earlier this season. C4

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