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Lefferts Gets Win No. 10 : Baseball: Padre offense lights up Hershiser, Dodgers for 6-2 victory.

July 02, 1992|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Craig Lefferts stood on the mound Wednesday afternoon, preparing to throw his first pitch in what would become a 6-2 Padre victory at Dodger Stadium, when it happened.

He became numb. Watching Dodger leadoff hitter Brett Butler walk to the plate, Lefferts couldn't keep his mind on the game.

He started thinking back to the last time he faced the Dodgers. It was April 9, the Padres' home-opener at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. That was the day he became a member of the Padre starting rotation.

Lefferts was on the mound for 13 minutes that day, threw 23 pitches, and was yanked after retiring only one batter. He gave up two homers in his first 10 pitches, and was gone after surrendering four runs.

The Padres started second-guessing their decision to move him from the bullpen. His teammates lost confidence in him.

"Truthfully, I didn't think he could do it," Padre first baseman Fred McGriff said. "I saw him in the bullpen the year before, saw the way he struggled, and I thought, 'No way.'

"I don't think anyone thought he could do this."

Take a good hard look. Craig Lindsey Lefferts on Wednesday became only the third 10-game winner in the National League this season.

The Dodgers became the latest team to be victimized by Lefferts (10-5). Throwing screwballs, sinkers and cut-fastballs, Lefferts allowed seven hits and two runs in 6 1/3 innings before giving way to Larry Andersen and Jose Melendez.

The Padres' offense did the rest, blitzing Dodger starter Orel Hershiser (6-6) for a career-high 13 hits in front of 22,324 at Dodger Stadium.

"Things have gotten a little bit better for me since that game," Lefferts said. "It's like a rejuvenation."

Lefferts now has won four of his last five starts, yielding a meager 1.86 ERA. The only pitcher in the National League with more victories is Cy Young winner Tom Glavine of the Atlanta Braves.

"All those critics who didn't think he would be successful, including me, have to eat crow," Padre right fielder Tony Gwynn said.

The Padre front office may be as surprised as anyone. They spent the entire winter trying to dump Lefferts and his $1.875-million salary. They couldn't find any takers.

Lefferts, who figured he was gone the moment the Padres traded in December for bullpen closer Randy Myers, wracked his brain to find a way to stay in San Diego. He called Padre General Manager Joe McIlvaine in January and asked if he could try starting.

"I told him not to laugh before I said it," Lefferts said. "When I talked to Joe, he was up front. He said because of my salary and the situation I was in, I'd probably be traded.

"But he let me give it a try."

Now, the man who was supposed to replace Mark Davis as the bullpen stopper is anchoring the Padre starting rotation.

"Everybody thought his next start would be his last," Riddoch said, "and he'd be back in the bullpen. Well, to tell you the truth, I don't know where we'd be without him."

Lefferts has helped keep the Padres (42-36) in the thick of the National League West race. They moved to within 3 1/2 games of the division-leading Cincinnati Reds, and are six games above .500 for the first time this season.

It's only the third time in franchise history that they've been within 3 1/2 games of the division lead in the month of July.

"It's a feeling of confidence now," Lefferts said. "I know I'm not overpowering anybody. I'm not blowing away the league. But I'm doing my job.

"If I win 30 games, and we finish second, what does it do? We're getting closer to our goal of winning the National League West. That's what this is all about."

The Padres, who have won six of their last eight games, once again supplied Lefferts with plenty of offense, averaging 6.4 runs a game in his victories.

The Padres dinked, chinked, blooped and scratched out 10 hits in the first four innings against Hershiser. Catcher Dan Walters was the only batter who even hit the ball hard.

Hershiser should have known it would be one of those days when Padre leadoff hitter Tony Fernandez opened the game with a bloop to left. Eric Davis ran toward the line and caught the ball, but the ball popped loose when he hit the ground. Fernandez was credited with a double, and now has opened the last five games with three doubles, a triple and four runs.

It was just the beginning of a horrifying day for the Dodger pitching staff. The Padres strung together three consecutive hits in the second inning and scored on Kurt Stillwell's six-hopper up the middle. They scored two more runs in the third inning, thanks to a double by Gwynn that didn't make the outfield grass and a bloop double by Darrin Jackson.

What kind of day was it for Hershiser?

Left fielder Jerald Clark, whose batting average has not been above .200 since April 16, threaded together three singles that may have been his weakest hits of the season.

Clark's batting average now is above the Mendoza line at .2008.

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