Piazza Gives the Dodgers Some Pizazz
Fred Claire, Dodger executive vice president, was sitting on the bench Friday and abruptly stopped talking.
He slowly broke into a wide, expansive grin. He then gestured toward catcher Mike Piazza, who was walking onto the field and ready to play.
“Will you look at that,” Claire said. “Now isn’t that the most beautiful sight you’ve ever seen?”
Piazza dramatically returned to the lineup, and the impact was sensational, triggering the Dodgers’ biggest offensive extravaganza of the season in a 10-3 rout over the New York Mets at Shea Stadium.
“You just saw the difference Mike makes to this team,” Dodger left fielder Todd Hollandsworth said. “He’s the greatest hitter most of us have ever played with. He’s not only just a big part of this offense, he’s the man.
“Our whole offense centers around him, it’s that simple.
“This wouldn’t have happened without him.”
The Dodgers pounded out a season-high 16 hits, including a career-high five hits by Roger Cedeno and a home run by Piazza. It was the first time a Dodger had five hits since Brett Butler on April 20, 1994.
“Five hits is a nice week,” Piazza said, “let alone a night.”
The Dodgers had a 9-0 lead for starter Ramon Martinez (4-0) by the fourth inning, and wound up with their biggest rout since May 3. Everyone in the Dodger lineup but second baseman Delino DeShields had a hit. Cedeno, of course, already had three.
“It was my night; everything I hit fell in,” said Cedeno, who had as many hits in eight innings as he produced in the last eight games combined. “I don’t understand this game sometimes.”
Cedeno, who actually predicted beforehand that he would get three hits, raised his batting average from .235 to .271 with the five-for-five performance. He never had a chance to bat in the ninth to tie the franchise record of six hits in a game.
Yet, without Piazza, Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda said, none of it would have been possible.
Who knows if Mike Blowers, who had only one home run all season, would have hit a two-run homer in the second inning to provide the Dodgers a 2-0 lead.
Who knows if Eric Karros, who failed to get a hit in the three-game series in Philadelphia, would have delivered a three-run homer in the fourth inning.
Who knows if Hollandsworth, who along with Cedeno batted ahead of Piazza in the lineup, would have hit two doubles with two RBIs.
“You saw what he meant to this team,” Lasorda said. “He puts a fear of God into those pitchers, I’ll tell you that right now. That guy [Mets starter Bobby Jones] probably was the happiest SOB in the world when he thought Piazza wasn’t in the lineup. When he saw him in there, he probably got sick to his stomach.”
Said Jones: “I didn’t get sick, but I didn’t feel real good about seeing him in there.”
Jones certainly didn’t appear to be the same pitcher who arrived with five consecutive victories and a 2.31 earned-run average in his last six starts. The Dodgers battered him for 10 hits and seven earned runs in 3 1/3 innings.
“I think it’s important for me just to be in the lineup, just my presence,” said Piazza, who leads the league with a .372 batting average, and has a team-leading 14 homers and 40 RBIs. “Obviously, I feel like I’m a big part of this lineup, and I need to be out there.”
Piazza proved that all is well again, hitting a line-drive, 409-foot homer over the center-field fence. He caught six innings, saying his knee felt a little stiff, but the pain was tolerable.
“I think the whole thing was overblown,” Piazza said. “Any time you heard the word, ‘tear,’ people get a little hysterical. As a catcher, you’re always going to have pain in your knees, but I’m not going to just take time off and have somebody operate.
“If it’s going to be a nagging thing that makes it tough for me to play, maybe I’ll have to reconsider. But not now. This team needs me.”