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He’s Back From R&R;, Dodgers Heading for It

Day 1 back from vacation and I came early Saturday to the Dodger Stadium press box to watch USC and Auburn clash on TV. Thought it would be my only chance to see some hitting in Dodger Stadium this year.

I have USC playing NIU, of course, for the national championship at season’s end, and while some people might tell you they heard me predicting an eight-point Auburn victory on Hacksaw Hamilton’s XTRA radio show Friday, I’ve never put any stock into what someone says on sports talk radio and I don’t think this would be a good time to start.

By the way, I know a little something about Northern Illinois University, or NIU, as those of us who went to school there call it, and when it’s all said and done, it shouldn’t come as a shock to USC fans, who have had experience finishing runner-up to the Huskies.

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TRACY RINGOLSBY, the respected baseball writer for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, assessed the wild-card race in this week’s column: “Arizona (wins) the NL wild-card race ... the Diamondbacks have an edge in a schedule that is set up for the Cubs, Cardinals and Astros to derail each other, while Philadelphia, Montreal, and Florida spend the final month beating up on each other.”

There are eight teams pursuing the wild-card spot and Ringolsby mentioned seven -- leaving out any mention of the Dodgers. Now you know why Ringolsby is so well respected.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Dodger GM Dan Evans said recently, “We definitely have the talent to get into the postseason.” I noticed he waited until I went on vacation to utter such nonsense.

It’s Evans’ job to assemble the talent, of course, so it’s interesting to note that he’s the only one who thinks he’s done a successful job this season, although the statistics suggest something quite differently. Evans added 10 offensive players to the Dodgers this season, and collectively they are hitting .213.

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The three players Evans acquired for the playoff stretch run, Rickety Henderson, Jeromy Burnitz and Robin Ventura, are collectively hitting .229.

The Dodgers were batting .242 as a team prior to Saturday’s game and went hitless through the first four innings before winning. Of the current players on the roster, Paul Lo Duca is the only one hitting above .280. Lo Duca, Shawn Green and Jolbert Cabrera are the only players hitting better than .260.

It makes you wonder why the Dodgers ask you to call “1-323-224-1 Hit” to buy tickets to see the team play. Maybe they should make that an audition line.

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A YEAR ago, I began calling the Dodgers the “Choking Dogs” in anticipation of their September swoon. They were in first place all by themselves in the wild-card race as late as Sept. 9, and tied with the San Francisco Giants as late as Sept. 17.

The Choking Dogs finished the season six games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks for the division title and 3 1/2 games behind the Giants for the wild card, despite Brian Jordan’s offensive rampage down the stretch.

We’re one day away from another September, the Dodgers have won three in a row, are 1 1/2 games out of the wild-card lead despite still having Andy Ashby on their team, and yet who are they kidding? (Did I mention for a moment that I had Auburn beating USC?)

They don’t have what it takes to hang with the rest of the contending field. In fact, in the long run it would be unfair to call this team the Choking Dogs because the Dodgers lack the firepower to go all the way and try to win a playoff game for the first time since 1988. So I guess that just makes them Dogs.

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THE DODGERS will hold an Eric Gagne look-alike contest during the Viva Los Dodgers festival at the stadium today. It’s a good chance for all ugly people to win the chance to meet Gagne and pick up four field-level tickets to a selected game.

“He is ugly,” said Lo Duca in describing his teammate, although it should be pointed out that the Dodgers insist on Lo Duca wearing a mask most of the time.

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I WASN’T around when the Clippers elected not to match the Heat’s offer for Lamar Odom, and find it amusing now that so many fans are quick to want to save Donald Sterling from wasting $65 million on a 23-year-old player with character issues, as GM Elgin Baylor pointed out.

I think the big mistake is not forcing Sterling to keep spending the money, and take the risk on finally fielding a successful basketball team.

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WENT TO lunch with boxing promoter Bob Arum at Del Mar on Thursday, which reminded me that Arum had won $3,993.20 a year earlier here on a Pick Four wager, and I had suggested the rich guy might as well donate it to the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund. He agreed, rather than face the public humiliation of appearing to be a cheapskate, or so I had been led to believe.

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He never made that donation, which forced me to go to the whip this week. He said he will now make it a $5,000 donation, and will present a check Oct. 4 to a jockey’s representative for the MacBeth Fund in the Staples Center ring as part of a night of fighting featuring a bunch of short boxers. If a jockey’s rep is unavailable, I suggested inviting the Mission Bay Shrimp -- it’s not like Doug Flutie is doing anything for the San Diego Chargers these days.

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TODAY’S LAST word comes by way of the Dodgers’ web site.

I checked to see how the “Guess What Day Fred McGriff hits his 500th home run” contest was going, and found no more mention of it.

I presume if you replied “not in my lifetime,” you won -- although it might be hard to collect.

T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com.


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