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Hot Dodgers Win, Ease the Sting

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Dodgers, often criticized for being impassive and emotionless, showed the youthful Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday that it’s quite foolish for anyone to provoke them without expecting to pay a price.

The Dodgers, who momentarily saw the season flash before their eyes, took out their ire on the Pirates, winning, 7-1, and spoiling the Pirates’ home opener in front of a sellout crowd of 43,126 at Three Rivers Stadium.

The victory, the Dodgers’ fourth in the last five games, vaulted them into a tie for first place in the National League West. The Dodgers’ 7-3 record is their best start since 1988--the last time they won the World Series.

“It was cold, and it was tough,” said shortstop Greg Gagne, who broke the game open with his three-run triple in the ninth inning, “but it all worked out.

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“Hallelujah.”

Yet, for a few scary moments in the second inning, the Dodgers worried about their entire season when all-star catcher Mike Piazza was hit by Francisco Cordova’s pitch just above the left elbow. Piazza left the game half an inning later. The pain became so severe that he was taken for X-rays. The result was negative, but it’s unknown whether Piazza will be able to return to the lineup today.

The only certainty is that Piazza will not soon forget the incident. Piazza seethed after being hit by the pitch and still was angry after the game.

Piazza refused to publicly say whether he thought he was hit deliberately, but his actions spoke loud and clear.

“What can I say, I got hit and it hurts,” said Piazza, who hurried out the door and was in no mood to talk. “If it got away from him, it got away from him. What can I say?”

Cordova, who doesn’t speak English, did not say whether he deliberately hit Piazza, but it looked suspicious to the Dodgers.

The Pirates apparently were upset with Piazza in the first inning when cleanup hitter Mark Johnson hit a two-out single to right field. Al Martin tried to score from second, but right fielder Raul Mondesi’s throw was perfect, and Piazza blocked the plate. Martin barreled in, and Piazza knocked him over, ending the inning.

Piazza, the first batter up in the second, immediately was drilled by Cordova’s high and tight fastball. It was the only pitch that got away from Cordova during his seven-inning stint. He walked only one batter.

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Piazza stayed in the game, hoping the pain would subside. Eric Karros lined to third baseman Joe Randa for the first out. When Todd Hollandsworth followed with a grounder to third base, Piazza ran as hard as he could to second base and upended shortstop Kevin Elster in a vicious slide. Piazza left the game, stormed up the runway and angrily smashed his bat into a locker.

“I don’t know whether [the pitch] was intentional or not,” Dodger Manager Bill Russell said. “But he got hit pretty good. He was pretty sore or else he wouldn’t have come out.”

The Dodgers, feeding off Piazza’s emotion, came right back and took a 2-0 lead in the third inning on a bases-loaded single by Wilton Guerrero and a sacrifice fly by Raul Mondesi. And just when the Pirates started to make things interesting, along came starter Ramon Martinez.

The Pirates loaded the bases with two out in the fifth inning when Martinez walked Martin on four pitches. Johnson stepped to the plate and Dodger pitching coach Dave Wallace raced to the mound.

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“He’s an aggressive hitter,” said Martinez (1-1), who pitched seven shutout innings, “so that’s the reason I wanted to throw a changeup. That was the key to the game.”

Johnson, completely fooled, swung at the first pitch and hit a foul popup to catcher Tom Prince. The Pirates could not recover.

“That was the biggest pitch of the game right there,” Prince said.

The Dodgers pulled out to a 3-0 lead in the sixth when Mondesi homered to left field, and then retaliated in their own behalf when Martinez drilled Pirate catcher Jason Kendall in the hip in the sixth. Mondesi, who didn’t hit a home run all spring, already has hit as many homers in the first 10 games as he did all last April.

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“The only difference is that spring training doesn’t count,” Mondesi said. “This counts.

“Now, we’re having fun.”


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