LAKELAND, Fla. — You can see daffy things almost every day in spring training, but the unusual manner in which the Dodgers dropped a 7-6 decision to the Detroit Tigers here Wednesday afternoon had even veteran observers shaking their heads.
There were two out in the bottom of the ninth, and the score was tied, 6-6. Dodger reliever Ken Howell had a 2-1 count on Alan Trammell with Matt Nokes leading off third base. Howell had taken a few steps off the mound and was waiting for catcher Gilberto Reyes to toss back the ball.
Reyes, a rookie, gave the sellout crowd at Joker Marchant Stadium a shock and a laugh when he threw the ball over Howell's head and past the pitcher's mound. Nokes scored before Dodger shortstop Dave Anderson could retrieve the ball.
Tigers 7, Dodgers 6. Game over.
Howell and the rest of the Dodgers seemed strangely frozen on the field. Then, the teams packed up and left. Reyes was the last to leave the dugout.
"I've never seen anything like that," Manager Tom Lasorda said. "I guess if you stay here long enough, you see it all. Maybe Chief (Al Campanis, the Dodgers' 70-year-old vice president) has seen it, but not me."
Howell said he could hardly believe it.
"I was waiting for the ball to come back, and I jumped for it and hit it with the tip of my glove but I couldn't reach it," he said. "It was shocking."
Reyes did not take his error well.
"I just (messed) up," Reyes said. "That's all I can say. I was just throwing the ball back to him and it got away. No, it didn't slip or anything. It just (bleep) got away.
"If I get somebody out, you guys don't write about that. But I (mess) up, and it's all I ever hear about."
Jerry Reuss, coming off yet another operation--the removal of a bone spur from his left elbow--knows that a good three-inning stint in an early spring game will not convince those who matter that he can still pitch effectively for the Dodgers. More important, Reuss says, is whether he has convinced himself.
After limiting the Detroit Tigers to one hit and no runs in three innings in the Dodgers' loss Wednesday, Reuss said he was satisfied--at least until his next spring training appearance.
"We're at a point now where I pitched three innings and felt fine," Reuss said. "Thus far, everything has been a step ahead of schedule and there have been no setbacks. Nobody knows if I can throw nine innings. Let's wait and see."
That test probably won't happen until late spring, when Dodger management will be forced to pick the fifth starting pitcher and the long relievers. The candidates are Reuss, Alejandro Pena, Tim Leary and Brian Holton.
Reuss struggled to a 2-6 record with a 5.86 earned-run average in 19 appearances last season. If his pitching was questionable before the surgery, it became a big question mark afterward. An expensive one, too, since the Dodgers are obligated to pay him $1.4 million over the next two seasons, whether he pitches or not.
Dodger Notes Other Dodger pitchers didn't fare as well as Jerry Reuss Wednesday. Shawn Hillegas gave up two runs on four hits in two innings. Balvino Galvez lasted two-thirds of an inning, giving up two runs, two hits and two walks. Dennis Livingston pitched out of Galvez's jam in the sixth inning, striking out Bruce Fields with two out and a runner on second. But Livingston experienced problems of his own in the seventh, when Larry Herndon drove in two runs with a double. . . . Offensively, Ralph Bryant had a single and a triple. Ken Landreaux hit a two-run homer to right field in the fourth inning.