Professional football was not played in town Sunday, but at least there was another match-up between the Dodgers and San Diego Padres. That consolation prize figured to be about as exciting as complimentary car wax to game-show losers.
But the 24,179 sports-starved fans who ventured to Dodger Stadium on a sunny afternoon were treated to several seldom-seen occurrences--in addition to watching Benito Santiago extend his hitting streak to 29 games--in the Dodgers' 4-3 win over the Padres.
Not only did the Dodgers come from behind in the late innings, thanks to John Shelby's bloop double that scored three runs in the eighth, but they managed to hold the lead in the ninth behind Alejandro Pena's strong relief pitching.
"Quite a game, wasn't it?" Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda said. "Exciting, wasn't it?"
Mostly, it was out of character. But lately, Pena has been quite reliable out of the bullpen. Suddenly and surprisingly the Dodgers' best reliever, Pena has recorded saves in six consecutive appearances. On the flip side, however, San Diego's Rich Gossage blew his sixth save opportunity this season with a horrendous eighth inning.
The Padres had a 3-1 lead when Gossage replaced starter Mark Grant in the bottom of the inning, but he loaded the bases with walks. Then, with two outs, Shelby lofted a fly ball down the left-field line that bounced less than a foot in front of Stan Jefferson's glove.
All three runners scored, giving the Dodgers a 4-3 lead that Pena preserved. The win gave the Dodgers (69-86) a sweep over the Padres (64-91). Tim Crews, who made three pitches in the eighth in relief of Fernando Valenzuela, earned his first major league win. Gossage was the loser.
Now that the Padres seem assured of the cellar, the Dodgers are looking at overtaking the Houston Astros for third place in the National League West. The Dodgers trail the Astros by four games going into tonight's two-game series.
Not that any of this jockeying in the standings really means anything. The Dodgers and Padres have had miserable seasons and still plan changes.
The Dodgers have had only two major problem areas this season--offense and defense. Valenzuela (13-14), who has one more chance to reach the .500 mark, again was a victim of poor defense and lack of offense.
Valenzuela took a 1-1 tie into the eighth, Mike Marshall accounting for the Dodger run with a second-inning home run to left.
But with one out, Santiago singled to left. Santiago scored from first on a triple to center by Shawn Abner on a fly ball that hit the middle of Shelby's glove but popped out. Abner scored on shortstop Glenn Hoffman's fielding error on a routine ground ball. After Joey Cora singled, Valenzuela was replaced by Crews, who served up a double-play grounder by pinch-hitter Tony Gwynn.
In the bottom of the inning, it was the Padres' turn to give the game away, which is exactly the way Manager Larry Bowa described it afterward.
"I know there will be times when this happens, but this was a give-away game," Bowa said. "When their tongues are on the ground in Yuma (Arizona) in February (at spring training), no one is going to be asking me why. And their tongues are going to be dragging. . . .
"We need less people worrying about batting average, RBI and individual stats and we need more who think about what they can do to help the team."
The Dodgers, meanwhile, have won 8 of 10 games and recorded their first series sweep since June 23-25.
Despite Lasorda's theory that the breaks finally are going the club's way, the Dodgers still are a team with many problems.
"I don't think we should look back at a good September and forget the rest of the season," catcher Mike Scioscia said.
Indeed, the Dodgers still need more offensive production, sounder defense and a more reliable bullpen, Pena's emergence as the club's top reliever notwithstanding.
Benito Santiago's 29-game hitting streak is the second longest in the major leagues this season behind Paul Molitor's 39. . . . Steve Sax, returning to the Dodger lineup after missing two games with a sore back, extended his hitting streak to 19 games. . . . Injured pitcher Ken Howell (right shoulder pain) threw on the side Sunday and experienced more pain. He will be examined by Dr. Frank Jobe again this morning to determine if surgery to repair cartilage is necessary. . . . Even though Mike Marshall was healthy Sunday, Manager Tom Lasorda asked him if he wanted the day off. Lasorda has wanted to take a look at a few of the Dodgers' young outfielders. Marshall said he wanted to play--Pedro Guerrero took the day off.
Dodger Attendance Sunday's Attendance 24,179. 1987 Attendance (78 dates) 2,740,027. 1986 Attendance (78 dates) 2,957,803. Decrease 217,776. Average 35,129.