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Two Down, Three to Go

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Somewhere over Colorado on their flight here Wednesday night, or in the wee hours after they arrived at 3 a.m., or over breakfast, the Dodgers individually seemed to come to a collective decision: Let’s just play ball.

No more team meetings about the season slipping away. No more pep talks. No more huddled groups trying to formulate game plans.

And, for one night at least, it worked.

The Dodgers took the pressure off themselves and put it on the opposition, smacking four home runs to beat the Colorado Rockies, 9-5, Thursday night in front of a Coors Field crowd of 48,020.

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Wednesday night, the Dodgers had trudged off the field at Dodger Stadium as if they were headed for the executioner’s chair.

Thursday night, they came off the field at Coors Field as if they had gotten an 11th-hour call from the warden.

Not a reprieve, mind you. Not yet. Far from it.

But at least a delay.

They are still in dire straits and they know it. The Dodgers are two games behind the National League West-leading San Francisco Giants with three to play.

But the Dodgers are no longer trying to think about it, or analyze or agonize over it.

“You can only have so many meetings,” said Manager Bill Russell, who has called his share. “There is no use is going over what needs to be done. They don’t want to hear about that. We must just go out and win some games.”

After Wednesday’s loss, third baseman Todd Zeile talked about “a dead atmosphere” around the club.

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Thursday, it was Zeile who helped bring the club back to life, cracking two home runs and driving in three as the Dodgers blasted former teammate Pedro Astacio (12-10) for eight runs and nine hits, handing Astacio his first loss as a Rocky after five victories.

The two-homer game was Zeile’s second in three days, his fifth of the season and the 11th of his career.

“The veterans have to take over this time of year,” Russell said. “Someone like [Zeile] can really carry a team.”

Darren Lewis’ three-run homer gave the Dodgers a 4-0 lead.

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Zeile hit a solo homer to right in the second inning and a two-run shot to left-center in the fifth to give him a career-high 31 homers.

Eric Karros also reached the 30 mark, hitting his 30th with a runner aboard in the fifth.

All that heavy artillery gave the Dodgers an 8-0 lead in the fifth. But remember, this was still Coors Field, where the only safe lead is the one you take back to the clubhouse.

Sure enough, with Hideo Nomo (14-12) on the mound, the Rockies began to come back. Neifi Perez hit two triples in three innings, and the score was 8-3 when Nomo left after the seventh.

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Then it was up to the Dodger bullpen to hold back the charging Rockies, who seemed to wake up late in the game.

Had they stayed in a funk, it would have been understandable. After all, the Rockies had just been brought back to earth the day before after a high-flying stretch in which they had won 20 of 26 games to become a factor in the division race.

But they were eliminated Wednesday by the Giants. And Larry Walker, their most-valuable-player candidate, was rested Thursday.

No matter.

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Colorado scored two more runs in the eighth against Antonio Osuna, Andres Galarraga doubling home one. The other run scored on a groundout before Todd Worrell finally closed the Rockies out in the ninth.

“There’s still a little light at the end of the tunnel,” Zeile said. “It’s not totally rubbed out.

“But it’s unfortunate that we have to rely on somebody else now.”

That somebody else would be the San Diego Padres, who will close out the season with a three-game series against the Giants at San Francisco.

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“We will not make it easy on the Giants,” Russell said. “We’ll put the pressure on them.”

And hope the warden calls with more good news.

THE WEST / Stretch Drive

STANDINGS

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*--*

TEAM W L GB DODGERS 86 73 2 GIANTS 88 73 --

*--*

Magic number: Giants 2

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Coverage

* Homeward bound. Eric Young’s motto: You can’t go home again, especially if you play well. C16

The Other Race

* NL Central. Eleven years after their last postseason berth, the Astros are in the playoffs again. C15

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THE WEST / Stretch Drive


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