Advertisement
Share

SWOON SONG

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It would be understandable if the Dodgers had an aversion to brooms. Over the last three seasons, they have played five crucial series.

And been swept out of every one of them.

Fourteen big games. Fourteen big losses.

This year, the Dodgers are in danger of being swept out of the playoffs by a collapse that has spread over much of September. On August 31, they led the San Francisco Giants by two and one-half games in the National League West. Since then, they have gone 6-12 to drop five games in the standings.

Advertisement

Who do you blame?

The pitching staff might be a good place to start. The team ERA for its starters in September is 5.63 after months of 2.79 (July) and 3.63 (August). The relief pitching hasn’t been much better. The bullpen has a collective ERA of 5.18 in September after not going as high as 4.00 for any previous month.

Is this a team that simply can’t handle pressure, a team that chokes?

To former manager Sparky Anderson, the ugliest word in the English language for a ballplayer is choke.

“I don’t believe there is such a thing,” he said. “They put so much pressure on themselves, but, if they didn’t, they would not be worth a damn.

“They are trying so hard right now that they can’t stop the pressure. It’s not like a water faucet that you can turn on and off. You never can escape it. If you do, you’d better stop playing this game.

“I was so tight when I managed in games like that that I took 30 [stomach pills] in a game. Thirty. Pressure is not unusual. It’s natural. If you say a team can’t take the pressure, how did they get this far?”

The Dodgers have been accused of letting pressure get to them before. They were swept out of the 1995 playoffs by the Cincinnati Reds in the first round. They were swept by the San Diego Padres in the three-game series that ended the 1996 regular season, costing them a division title. The Dodgers were then swept out of the playoffs in the first round by the Atlanta Braves.

Advertisement

This year, they were swept by the San Francisco Giants and the Colorado Rockies in the last two crucial series.

So is there a common thread in these games, some basic flaw in this team that causes it to fail in the clutch?

Two long-time baseball figures, both Southern California residents, are able to take an objective point of view. Between them, Anderson and Gene Mauch managed 7,970 major league games over a combined 52 years before retiring. Said Mauch, “I think talking about clutch players is the silliest thing in the world. All you want is a player who plays at his normal level, whether it’s the second inning or the tenth inning.”

But are there some players out there who don’t want to be in the middle of a pennant race, who can’t take the pressure?

Advertisement

“If they didn’t want to be there in April for me,” Anderson said, “they didn’t get a chance in September.”

Anderson says he can see the tension when he watches the Dodgers bat.

“They are taking pitches, looking for the perfect pitch up there,” he said, “and when they get it, they can’t pull the trigger.”

Dodger shortstop Greg Gagne has been struggling more than most, locked in a slump that has seen him go zero for 19 before a bruised tendon in his forearm sidelined him.

Advertisement

“I know Gagne,” Mauch said. “He wants to do well so bad, he’s dying. He’s got to get reckless up there. He’s just got to let her fly.”

Anderson says the fact this race is still undecided is not surprising.

“The hardest thing in the world is to lock the door,” he said. “Sometimes, the key just doesn’t fit. And that goes for the Giants and the Dodgers.

“Dusty [Baker, Giant manager] is scared to death that he can’t get the door locked. I saw where Dusty had to go to the hospital the other day because of stomach pains. That’s not what it was. It was stress. [Dodger Manager] Billy Russell also has to be feeling the pain.

Advertisement

“But this thing is not over yet. The Dodgers could win two in a row. . . . Then all these fans will be back on the bandwagon. I tell them, ‘Don’t jump off’.

“Yes, the Giants have the advantage. You would have to be a moron not to think that. But the key don’t fit just yet.”

Despite the deficit, Mauch favors the Dodgers at this point.

“I think this team [the Dodgers] has more talent than the other team [the Giants],” he said. “I like the center fielder [Otis Nixon]. I like his attitude. He is something special. He can win games for you without his bat. I like the right fielder [Raul Mondesi]. I like his attitude. I like their chances. They’ve done well in Colorado [where the Dodgers must play four games to close out the regular season].

Advertisement

“But I don’t know what makes the Dodgers tick. They know. Billy knows. But I’ll tell you, they’d better hear that tick themselves pretty soon.”

Anderson doesn’t buy the theory that the burden for turning this thing around rests with Russell, that he must shed his stoic nature and be more explosive like his predecessor, Tommy Lasorda.

“You’d better be you,” Anderson said. “The players will know, our boy ain’t our boy. Tommy is Tommy and Billy is Billy. I hope Billy doesn’t try to be Tommy. I know Tommy would never try to be Billy.

“There’s no magic in managing. You just have to be you. And if that happens to work with that particular club that you’re managing, then you have magic. But no book has ever been written on how to do it. It’s like raising your children. There’s no blueprint for that, either.

Advertisement

“If you’re a screamer, scream. If you’re quiet, be quiet. You know who taught me that? Walt Alston.

“If the team doesn’t win, it wasn’t good enough. But just let them do the things they do right.”

Is there anything else Russell could do?

“If it was June,” Anderson said, “I would go with a different lineup, run, hit and run, go wild and crazy. You might get people thrown out, but you’ve got to try and unlock the team. It is in a rut. You’ve got to change that. But that’s in June. But to be honest, I wouldn’t have the courage to try it with six games left.”

Advertisement

Mauch says that Russell has to focus on each player separately.

“I used to think that maybe I could come up with that one little phrase to get a player going,” Mauch said. “You have to concentrate on individuals, not on the whole team. The whole team is not going up there to bat at once. And you have to stress that today’s game is not for the [divisional title]. This is just today’s game. The [divisional title] won’t be decided until Saturday or Sunday.”

Anderson feels the Dodgers’ fate will be decided on the mound.

“They got to catch six well-pitched games,” he said. “Give the team an opportunity to win.”

Advertisement

Anderson said he wouldn’t be afraid to use reliever Todd Worrell, who has struggled terribly down the stretch.

“I know Todd Worrell. Todd Worrell can stand alongside me anytime,” Anderson said. “He has character. He has been going through rough times, but I’d walk with him and we’d take the bullets together. If that is the girl you took to the dance, you’d better take her home.

“It is a terrible thing to say, but there is something more than winning. Did I give that man everything he deserved for what he did for us?”

Mauch, however is not so sure that sticking with Worrell is the right move.

Advertisement

“Maybe if one guy tried so hard that he wore himself out getting you there,” he said, “maybe you go with another guy who can help keep you there.”

Prior to Sunday’s game, the Dodgers had a team meeting to try and reassemble the troops.

“I think that generally, it’s insulting a player’s intelligence,” Mauch said, “to call a meeting and tell a player, ‘You’ve got to do this,’ or, ‘You’ve got to do that.’ Players know what to do.”

But can the Dodgers do it before they are swept out of yet another season?

Advertisement

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

THE WEST / Stretch Drive

STANDINGS

*--*

Advertisement

TEAM W L GB GIANTS 87 70 -- DODGERS 84 72 2 1/2 ROCKIES 81 75 5 1/2

*--*

MAGIC NUMBER:

GIANTS

Advertisement

4

THE FINAL 9

Dodgers vs. Rockies: L, 6-4 SEPT. 19

Dodgers vs. Rockies: L, 2-1 SEPT. 20

Advertisement

Dodgers vs. Rockies: L, 10-5 SEPT. 21

OFF, SEPT. 22 Dodgers vs. Padres, SEPT. 23

Dodgers vs. Padres, SEPT. 24

Dodgers at Rockies, SEPT. 25

Advertisement

Dodgers at Rockies, SEPT. 26

Dodgers at Rockies, SEPT. 27

Dodgers at Rockies, SEPT. 28

THE FINAL 9

Advertisement

Giants at Padres: W, 7-4 SEPT. 19

Giants at Padres: L, 12-2 SEPT. 20

Giants at Padres: W, 8-5 SEPT. 21

Giants at Padres: W, 11-5 SEPT. 22

Advertisement

Giants at Rockies, SEPT. 23

Giants at Rockies, SEPT. 24

OFF, SEPT. 25

Giants vs. Padres, SEPT. 26

Advertisement

Giants vs. Padres, SEPT. 27

Giants vs. Padres, SEPT. 28

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Tell-Tale Signs

Advertisement

FROM DRIVE TO NOSE DIVE

It hasn’t been a kind month for the Dodgers (6-12). They entered the month with a 2 1/2 game lead over the Giants, but their pitching has abandoned them. A look:

*--*

Sept. Season Team ERA 5.5 3.59 Starters ERA 5.63 3.70 Relievers ERA 5.18 3.34 Batting Average ..266 267

Advertisement

*--*

DODGERS ‘MUST’ HAVE A PROBLEM

Since 1995, whenever the Dodgers were involved in a ‘crucial’ series, they’ve been unable to win even a game. A closer look:

*--*

Advertisement

Year vs. At Stake Record 1995 Reds Div. Playoffs 0-3 1996 Padres NL West Title 0-3 1996 Braves Div. Playoffs 0-3 1997 Giants Key 2-game series 0-2 1997 Rockies Key 3-game series 0-3

*--*

Research: HOUSTON MITCHELL / Los Angeles Times

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Advertisement

Big Games, Big Problems

In the last three seasons, the Dodgers have been unable to win the big games. They were swept by Cincinnati in the 1995 divisonal playoffs, by San Diego to lose the division title in 1996, by Atlanta in the 1996 divisional playoffs, and by the Giant and Rockies the last five games of this season. A look at the numbers.

1995

*--*

Advertisement

DODGERS REDS Record 0-3 3-0 Avg. .279 .279 Runs 7 22 HR 3 5 ERA 6.92 2.00

*--*

1996

*--*

Advertisement

DODGERS PADRES Record 0-3 3-0 Avg. .168 .243 Runs 4 11 HR 0 2 ERA 3.30 1.20 DODGERS BRAVES Record 0-3 3-0 Avg. .147 .180 Runs 5 10 HR 0 5 ERA 3.33 0.96

*--*

1997

*--*

Advertisement

DODGERS GIANTS Record 0-2 2-0 Avg. .244 .214 Runs 6 8 HR 2 4 ERA 3.79 1.71 DODGERS ROCKIES Record 0-3 3-0 Avg .267 .240 Runs 10 18 HR 2 5 ERA 6.00 2.67

*--*

COMBINED NUMBERS

*--*

Advertisement

DODGERS OPP. Record 0-14 14-0 Avg. .222 .234 Runs 32 69 HR 7 21 ERA 4.67 1.69

*--*

KEY DODGER PLAYERS

* Mike Piazza

Advertisement

.259 (15-58), 1 2B, 2 HR, 9 RBIs

* Eric Karros

.283 (15-53), 1 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBIs

* Raul Mondesi

Advertisement

.288 (15-52), 2 HR, 5 RBIs

* Hideo Nomo: 0-2, 6.45 ERA

* Ismael Valdes: 0-1, 1.95 ERA

* Ramon Martinez: 0-2, 6.87 ERA

Advertisement

* Todd Worrell: 0-0, 0.00 ERA (4 IP)

DODGER PITCHING IN 1997

MONTH-BY-MONTH

April: 13-11, 3.24 ERA

Advertisement

May: 13-15, 2.89

June: 13-16, 4.38

July: 20-7, 2.87

August: 19-11, 3.27

Advertisement

September: 6-12, 5.45

ROTATION

April: 9-8, 3.21 ERA

May: 9-11, 3.07

Advertisement

June: 10-12, 4.64

July: 16-4, 2.79

August: 15-8, 3.63

September: 2-8, 5.63

Advertisement

BULLPEN

April: 4-3, 3.30 ERA, 8 saves

May: 4-4, 2.29, 7 saves

June: 13-16, 3.89, 4 saves

Advertisement

July: 4-3, 3.04, 12 saves

August: 4-3, 2.44, 10 saves

September: 4-4, 5.18, 4 saves

DODGERS IN SEPTEMBER

Advertisement

HITTING

* Mike Piazza

.386 (27-70), 5 HR, 19 RBIs

* Todd Zeile

Advertisement

.386 (27-70), 3 HR, 14 RBIs

* Otis Nixon

.321 (25-78), 18 runs, 6 SBs

* Raul Mondesi

Advertisement

.319 (22-69), 2 HR, 8 RBIs

* Eric Karros

.227 (17-75), 0 HRs, 5 RBIs

* Greg Gagne

Advertisement

.140 (6-43), 1 RBI, 18 strikeouts

PITCHING

* Ismael Valdes: 0-1, 3.00 ERA

* Todd Worrell: 5.68 ERA, 2 saves

Advertisement

* Hideo Nomo: 0-2, 6.17 ERA

* Ramon Martinez: 1-2, 6.64 ERA

* Tom Candiotti: 1-1, 6.75 ERA

* Chan Ho Park: 0-2, 6.89 ERA

Advertisement

* Darren Dreifort: 0-1, 7.45 ERA

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Opponent--San Diego Padres, two games.

Site--Dodger Stadium.

Advertisement

Time--7 p.m.

TV--KTLA (Channel 5).

Radio--KABC (790), KWKW (1330).

Records--Dodgers, 84-72, Padres, 74-83.

Advertisement

Record vs. Padres--4-6.

Tonight’s pitchers--Dodgers’ Chan Ho Park (13-8, 3.44 ERA) vs. Padres’ Paul Menhart (2-2, 4.54)

Update--After losing three out of four to the San Francisco Giants, the Padres come north to try to spoil the Dodgers’ hopes of winning the NL West title. Last year, the Padres swept the Dodgers in the final three games of the regular season to win the division, and the Dodgers had to settle for a wild-card playoff spot. These are the final two games of the regular season at Dodger Stadium, where the Dodgers are 46-33 and have drawn over three million in attendance again.

Wednesday, 5 p.m.--Dodgers’ Tom Candiotti (10-6, 3.53) vs. Padres’ Joey Hamilton (10-7, 4.39).

Advertisement

*

* TERMINATOR TOO

Fred Claire, the Dodger executive vice-president, is a nice man, but more assertive than he’s given credit for. C2

* PARK’S CENTRAL

Advertisement

The Dodgers send Chan Ho Park against the San Diego Padres tonight. C8

* DODGER REPORT: C8

* GIANT BOX SCORE: C7

* SEATTLE WINS

Advertisement

The Mariners beat Oakland, 4-2, and clinched at least a tie for the AL West division title. One more Angel loss or Mariner win, and the Angels are eliminated. C6

* HAPPY, NOT HAPPY

Atlanta clinched another NL East title when Florida lost to the New York Mets. The Marlins’ loss kept them from clinching a wild-card spot. C7


Advertisement