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Signposts to the Cellar

October 04, 1987|Paul Burka

IFS AND BUTS WERE ONCE THE LAST REFUGE of Dodger rivals, something for them to reflect upon while the Dodgers played in the World Series. Now it's the Dodgers who will spend October mulling over what might have been--and there's plenty for them to think about. The Dodgers have traded away good players, wasted draft choices, lost key games and had their share of bad luck. Here is a list of 10 low moments in recent Dodger history that sum up the team's descent from the top of the standings to the bottom.

Oct. 4, 1981--Pitcher Rick Sutcliffe erupts with rage when he learns that manager Tom Lasorda has left him off the postseason roster. His punishment is a trade to Cleveland. The Dodgers give up a future Cy Young Award winner and get virtually nothing (Jorge Orta and minor-leaguer Larry White) in return.

Dec. 8, 1983--The Dodgers trade away a hot young prospect, Sid Fernandez, for marginal players. Fernandez goes on to be a mainstay of the Mets' pitching staff; the players the Dodgers get in return, pitcher Carlos Diaz and infielder Bob Bailor, contribute little.

June 30, 1985--Ace reliever Steve Howe is placed on the restricted list because of his second involvement with drugs. The bullpen has never recovered.

Oct. 16, 1985--The Dodgers need only one out to force a decisive seventh game in the National League championship series against St. Louis. Lasorda decides to let Tom Niedenfuer pitch to slugger Jack Clark with the Dodgers holding a one-run lead and Cardinal runners on second and third. Clark smashes a home run. The Dodger aura of invincibility begins to erode. April 3, 1986--Pedro Guerrero ruptures a tendon in his left knee while sliding. The loss of their best player transforms a team that was strongly favored to win its division into one no stronger than its rivals.

Aug. 11, 1986--After a slow start, the Dodgers have climbed back into the pennant race and are in Houston to open a crucial series against the league-leading Astros. The Dodgers take a 6-3 lead into the eighth inning of the first game but lose it in the ninth, 7-6, after Mike Marshall and Reggie Williams misplay fly balls. The team goes on to lose three out of four games and drops out of contention.

April 5, 1987--Al Campanis makes his infamous appearance on "Nightline." Critics descend on the front office. Stunned and distracted, the Dodgers lose the first five games of the season.

May 1, 1987--Free agent Tim Raines signs with his old team, the Montreal Expos. The Dodgers, one of the few teams that could afford to meet Raines' price, elect to sit on their wallet and miss a chance to acquire an acknowledged superstar.

June 17, 1987--Mike White, the Dodgers' first-round draft choice in 1986, leaves the Bakersfield minor league team for "personal reasons." Although he returns to baseball in August, his defection highlights the Dodger organization's recent failures in the draft, which include such first-round busts as Henry Gatewood (1982) and Erik Sonberg (1983).

Aug. 5, 1987--The Dodgers can move into contention with a victory in the final game of the series against league-leading Cincinnati. But in a game that typifies the Dodgers' new futility, shortstop Mariano Duncan makes three errors, and the Dodgers give away a game they should have won. They are never again in the pennant race.

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