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Hot Dodgers Sweat One Out

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There was no raucous celebration in the clubhouse and little laughter. There were much-less-expansive grins.

The Dodgers pulled out a 7-6, 12-inning victory Friday night over the Philadelphia Phillies at Veterans Stadium, but instead of a feeling of euphoria, they were overcome with relief.

“These are the games we’ve got to win,” said second baseman Delino DeShields, who drove in the game-winner with a triple in the 12th. “We’ve got to beat up on teams like the Phillies.

“But we know what we’ve got to do. Either we play or we go home.

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“I think if we get to the playoffs, we’ll take off. I think we can do some serious damage.

“But we’ve got to get there first.”

The Dodgers (73-61), who moved a season-high 12 games above .500 with their seventh victory in eight games, remain two games behind the San Diego Padres in the National League West. They picked up a game on the Montreal Expos, and now lead the wild-card race by 1 1/2 games.

“It would have been crushing to lose this game,” said Dodger starter Tom Candiotti, who yielded three runs in 5 2/3 innings, “it really would have been. The whole team just seemed to be dragging. But we can’t afford to lay back because the Padres are very convincing.”

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It has become a matter of survival, and with only 28 games remaining, the Dodgers realized they nearly blew a critical game. They squandered a 6-2 lead, held their breath when the Phillies blew two key scoring opportunities by failing to lay down simple bunts, and took advantage in the 12th.

Center fielder Chad Curtis, who made a nice running catch on Jim Eisenreich’s fly ball to the wall in the 10th inning, led off the 12th with a walk. Reliever Jeff Parrett fell behind, 2-and-1, to DeShields when Dodger Manager Bill Russell called for a hit-and-run. Parrett fired a fastball, and DeShields sent it into the right-center gap, easily scoring Curtis.

The Dodgers failed to score DeShields from third, but no matter. Todd Worrell gave up one hit and produced his career-high 37th save, the most of any Dodger pitcher in franchise history.

“He’s meant a lot more to us than 37 saves,” pitching coach Dave Wallace said. “What he does is solidify things, and the other guys play off him.”

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It was only fitting that on the night that Worrell produced his record-setting save, he preserved Darren Dreifort’s first career victory. The two pitchers, who are living together in Los Angeles, have overcome reconstructive elbow surgeries.

“They got a ball for him from earlier in the game to keep,” Worrell said, “and I got the final one. It was very satisfying and fulfilling from all of the hard work we put in.”

Still, the Dodgers will tell you it never should have reached that point this night. It took four innings for them to get a hit off rookie left-hander Matt Beech (1-2, 6.59 earned-run average). They knocked him out of the game in the sixth when Billy Ashley hit a three-run homer, providing the Dodgers with a seemingly comfortable 6-2 lead. But by the seventh, they were tied at 6-6.

“It seems like we always play up to our level of competition,” Russell said.

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The Phillies (54-81) not only have the worst record in the National League, but have made so many changes the past six weeks that players still are introducing themselves to one another in the clubhouse.

It is so ridiculous that outfielder Pete Incaviglia asked a new player to fetch him a cup of coffee, only to learn that he was one of his teammates. And Incaviglia was traded this week to Baltimore. The Phillies have used a franchise-record 53 players this season--one shy of the National League record--and 75 the last two years.

Yet, despite fielding a lineup that was more suited to the International League than the National League, the Phillies still went toe-to-toe with the Dodgers. They scored three runs off reliever Mark Guthrie in the seventh to tie it.

“Realistically, you don’t expect to sweep everybody,” DeShields said, “no matter how bad they’re playing. This is still the big leagues. They are big league players.

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“That’s what Billy [Russell] keeps preaching to us. These are the games we have to win.

“Then, we end up the season with seven of the last 10 against the Padres.

“May the best man win.”


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