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Bullpen Sinks the Dodgers Again : Howell Gives Up the Winning Hit in 8-7 Loss to Padres

June 18, 1987|SAM McMANIS | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Power surges by Dodger hitters have been so rare lately that, when they happen, maybe some type of commemorative gesture is needed.

So, after each of center fielder John Shelby's two two-run home runs against the San Diego Padres here Wednesday, the Dodger bullpen crew assembled down the right-field line and gave Shelby a comical salute they gleaned from the movie "The Three Amigos."

By the end of a long afternoon at Jack Murphy Stadium, though, the on-field performance by the Dodger bullpen in an 8-7 loss to the streaking Padres called for a different kind of gesture by teammates.

Maybe a Bronx cheer, or perhaps a more pointed salute.

After all, "The Three Amigos" was a bomb at the box office, and the Dodger bullpen apparently imitated that, too.

A two-run Dodger lead turned into another one-run loss in the seventh inning when reliever Brian Holton and Ken Howell could not hold back the Padres, whose five-game winning streak is the longest in the majors.

The big blow in the bullpen's latest misadventure was at the expense of Howell, who gave up a two-run single to pinch-hitter John Kruk that scored Carmelo Martinez and Benito Santiago and completed another late-inning Dodger collapse.

Howell had an 0-and-2 count on Kruk, who had missed the last three games with a strained right knee and had been in an 0-for-17 slump. Rather than make Kruk chase a bad pitch, Howell threw a low breaking ball that Kruk slapped through the middle.

No one was more surprised by the good pitch offered than Kruk.

"I thought he'd waste one for sure," Kruk said. "Their scouting reports had to say, throw balls in the dirt or over my head and I'd chase them. I'm stupid. I'll swing at anything."

Howell did not seem remorseful over the mistake, mostly because he did not see it as a mistake.

"I didn't throw it low enough, but whether it was a good pitch or a bad pitch, he hit it," Howell said. "The guy didn't actually hit the ball with authority. The guy got a hit with a seeing-eye ball. But it was good enough for them to win."

Depending on the viewpoint, either the Padres are finding new ways to win or the Dodgers are going to exhaustive lengths to find creative losses.

The Padres, who still have baseball's worst record at 20-46, have won five straight for the first time since August of 1985. The Dodgers, meanwhile, have lost six of the last seven.

"It seemed like a lot of people were kicking us and getting sand in our faces," Padre Manager Larry Bowa said. "But what goes around comes around."

San Diego's two-game sweep over the Dodgers had to be the most maddening yet for Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda.

Tuesday night, he watched his offense stall and reliever Alejandro Pena walk in the winning run in the seventh inning of a 3-2 loss. And Wednesday, while Dodger hitters produced seven runs, the bullpen made an even bigger pratfall in the seventh.

The Dodger relief corps, which has a 4.65 earned-run average, ran into problems this time even before Howell's entrance.

Starter Fernando Valenzuela, who gave up five runs (four earned) and seven hits in another shaky outing, was replaced by Holton in the top of the seventh.

Holton retired the first two Padre hitters before walked Tony Gwynn and Martinez. Santiago then blooped a double into left-center that scored Gwynn and moved Martinez to third.

That's when Lasorda made his move to Howell, who had not been asked to pitch in a pressure situation since he gave up a game-winning home run to Cincinnati's Eric Davis on June 5.

There might be a reason for that. Howell blew another chance to record his first save since last September. Instead, he saddled Holton (2-1) with the loss.

On the flip side, the Padre bullpen quieted the Dodgers in both games. Lance McCullers, who got the win in relief Tuesday night, earned the save Wednesday for winner Craig Lefferts (2-2), who pitched one inning of relief.

Had Valenzuela not tired after throwing 107 pitches through six innings, the Dodgers might not have wound up with another bullpen catastrophe.

But then, Valenzuela again wasn't overly effective. He gave up a two-run home run to Martinez in the first inning and a solo home run to Kevin Mitchell in the sixth.

In a rare occurrence, the competitive Valenzuela told Lasorda and pitching coach Ron Perranoski that was tiring after the sixth. But Valenzuela maintained afterward that he is experiencing no pain in his left arm or shoulder.

"It's just the normal tired when you pitch a lot, not pain," Valenzuela said. "I threw 164 pitches my last start (last Thursday against Houston). Sometimes, when you pitch, you don't have the effectiveness."

Ed Whitson, the Padre starter who gave up six runs and eight hits in 4 innings, felt the same way.

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