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Baseball '90 PREVIEW : REVIEW : From Beginning to End, '89 Was a Disaster for Dodgers

April 09, 1990|BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Of the 320 pages of the 1990 Dodger media guide, the highlights of 1989 were covered in three. So we'll be brief.

The team's defending world championship season began in Cincinnati, with Tim Belcher racked for six runs before the end of the third inning in a 6-4 loss.

It ended six months later, in Atlanta, with umpire Bob Engel calling their final game because of a lack of interest. Engel canceled the second game of a season-ending doubleheader with the last-place Braves, citing rain problems, even though the first game had been completed and it had long since stopped raining.

In between, the Dodgers won 77 games, lost 83, and spent all but 15 days of the summer in fourth place or lower. They finished in fourth, 14 games behind the division-winning San Francisco Giants.

Just for fun, the Giants rubbed it in during a memorable Sept. 20 game in which they came back from a 7-0 deficit to win, 8-7, with five runs in the bottom of the ninth. That game was also notable in that it was Mike Marshall's last official appearance in a Dodger uniform. After diving for a fly ball and missing it in that ninth inning, he sat out the rest of the season.

The 1989 season was the fourth time in the last six years that the Dodgers had finished with a losing record. But rarely in one six-month period have they lost so much. Not counting Manager Tom Lasorda's celebrated lost weight--38 pounds--the operative word here is "injury."

The Dodgers lost the full services of Kirk Gibson, 1988's Most Valuable Player, to a knee injury that eventually required surgery. They lost the full services of Marshall, because of injuries ranging from his back to a foot. The Dodgers' mid-batting order nightmare of Gibson, Eddie Murray and Marshall proved to be just that, a nightmare. The three players started together in just 35 of 160 games.

The Dodgers lost the full services of outfielder Kal Daniels, acquired with infielder Lenny Harris in a mid-season trade with Cincinnati that sent pitcher Tim Leary and infielder Mariano Duncan to the Reds. Daniels joined the team while still recovering from arthroscopic left knee surgery in May. After playing 11 games for the Dodgers, he required a similar operation on the other knee.

At one time or another, injuries also cost the Dodgers the services of shortstop Alfredo Griffin, infielder/outfielder Franklin Stubbs, outfielders Chris Gwynn and Mike Davis, and pitchers Ray Searage, Alejandro Pena and John Tudor.

Then there was Mickey Hatcher. The Dodgers all-purpose player and cheerleader was chasing vandals down a street near his Los Angeles area home when he injured his hamstring and was sidelined for 15 days. Of the Dodgers' 18 different uses of the disabled list, that was the most frustrating.

Maybe the reason for all the injuries was that the Dodgers played too long. They averaged 2:46 for their road games, second-longest in the league. They also managed to play the two longest games in Los Angeles franchise history.

On June 3 in Houston, they lost to the Astros, 5-4, in a game that took 22 innings and 7:14. That night game was followed several hours later by a 13-inning day game that the Astros won, 7-6, meaning the Dodgers had played 35 innings in one 24-hour period--for nothing.

The other endless journey occurred Aug. 23 in Montreal, when they defeated the Expos, 1-0, in a bout that took 22 innings and 6:14. If Rick Dempsey did not finally hit a home run out of frustration, they might still be playing that game.

The Dodger marathons, which included a 17-inning, 15-inning, and two 13-inning games, could be explained in the 1989 team's two most prominent traits. The Dodger pitchers wouldn't allow anybody to score, while the offense couldn't score off anybody.

The pitchers led the National League in earned-run average at 2.95, and shutouts with 19, and complete games with 25. Tim Belcher led all major league pitchers with eight shutouts. Orel Hershiser finished with a 2.31 ERA, second in the NL. Jay Howell recorded a club-record 28 saves.

The hitters, on the other hand, were terrible. The team batting average of .240 ranked 10th in the 12-team league. The Dodgers led the league with 1,171 runners left on base. The offense was shut out 17 times, another league high.

The season can be best summed up in the experience of Dave Hansen, a minor league third baseman. On Aug. 20, he was recalled to the Dodgers from double-A San Antonio. He flew all night to join the team in Montreal. In the left-handed hitter's debut game hours after his arrival, Montreal started left-handed pitcher Mark Langston, so Hansen did not play. The next morning, Hansen was sent back down to San Antonio.

Hansen was there, but he wasn't. Like the Dodgers in 1989.

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