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You Can’t Dodge These Bad Signs

Here’s the best spin the Dodgers could put on their four-game split with the San Diego Padres:

“We didn’t regress this series,” catcher Charles Johnson said. “We’ve got to keep staying positive.”

Running in place qualifies as good news for the Dodgers these days, which shows how far out of the race they really are. Four games after the All-Star break, four days deeper into July and they are right back where they started, 13 1/2 games behind the Padres in the National League West. They catch Tony Gwynn in the worst hitting slump of his career (0 for 17) and still can’t win the series.

By losing the last two games they also failed to gain on the San Francisco Giants, who lost on Saturday and Sunday but remain 6 1/2 games ahead of the Dodgers in the wild-card race.

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Oh, the Dodgers also lost ground to the Chicago Cubs on Sunday. And the New York Mets. And the Philadelphia Phillies. They all are ahead of the Dodgers. It takes more than deep faith to conceive ways the Dodgers can make the playoffs. It takes a lot of number-crunching too.

The math is much simpler when reviewing the Padres series. Two steps forward, two steps back. That goes for everyone, including new General Manager Tom Lasorda.

If the Dodgers could have more games like Friday’s come-from-behind victory, then Lasorda would be baseball’s executive of the year.

Adrian Beltre, whom Lasorda brought up from double-A last month, had a key eighth-inning hit and later made a nice running grab and throw to get the out on an attempted bunt. Then newly acquired closer Jeff Shaw, denied a save opportunity only because the Dodgers were too successful for their own good and went up by four runs, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth.

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Lasorda was loving it. He spent the late innings in the press box, coaxing on his team, applauding its success. The Diamond Vision showed him dancing to the music during a break in the action and the fans went crazy.

Saturday night Beltre made a throwing error and a base-running mistake in the Dodgers’ loss. Sunday the newest Dodger, pitcher Brian Bohanon, gave up three home runs--two to Ken Caminiti--in four innings. Reliever Antonio Osuna, who Lasorda has promised won’t be traded, gave up Caminiti’s third on the day, snapping a personal 16 2/3-inning scoreless streak. And the promising youngster Lasorda traded for Shaw, Paul Konerko, hit a home run for Cincinnati for the second consecutive game.

It’s too bad Lasorda wasn’t around Sunday so someone could ask him his opinion of Caminiti’s performance, the way some unfortunate soul did after Dave Kingman’s three-homer day in 1976.

The fans gave their opinion of Bohanon’s performance with some quick boos. You could just imagine what was going through the heads of Dodger fans: “They traded Greg McMichael for this guy?”

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OK, so maybe most Dodger fans didn’t have enough time to grow attached to McMichael. Chances are most of the 42,056 on hand never had seen McMichael pitch in a Dodger uniform before. After all he’d been here for only a month. But with this group that puts him in contention for seniority. The Dodgers’ starting lineup on Sunday had only three players who played on the major league club last season: Raul Mondesi, Eric Karros and Wilton Guerrero.

Things are feeling very familiar for the Padres. They won again, which means they listened to Will Smith’s “Big Willie Style” CD again the way they do after every victory.

“Everybody knows the words to all the songs,” Gwynn said.

That’s what happens when your team wins 59 games.

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The other sound of success is Caminiti’s bat. Before the first game of the series on Thursday, Caminiti was selecting bats for batting practice by holding the top of the barrel between his thumb and forefinger, thumping the barrel with the heel of his other hand and bringing the bat to his ear to listen to the faint resonace.

“The higher the pitch, the better the wood,” he said.

Sunday, it looked like Caminiti had a good-sounding piece of lumber.

Apparently the Dodger bats haven’t sounded as good. And the clubhouse was silent after Sunday’s game, the way Octobers have been silent in Chavez Ravine for a decade now.

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They showed Kirk Gibson’s home run from 1988 on Classic Sports Network Sunday afternoon. You know what remains the most amazing thing about it? When the camera follows the ball into seats you can see red brake lights from the cars in the parking lot behind the right-field pavilion, cars that are leaving the stadium in the bottom of the ninth inning of a one-run game in the World Series.

There were more brake lights visible in the bottom of the ninth Sunday, only this time it was a little more understandable. Padre closer Trevor Hoffman hadn’t blown a save all season and there was no reason to think he would do so now. He didn’t, getting potential tying run Matt Luke to ground into a 6-4-3 double-play with two men on to end the game.

There are three games coming up with the Giants now, three games that will determine whether or not it’s safe to get in the car and leave for good this season. No one, not even the tread-water Dodgers, can split a three-game series.


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