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He's Just What the Dodgers Needed : Baseball: Losing streak ends as DeShields, of all people, is the star of 7-2 victory over Expos.

August 22, 1995|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MONTREAL — The Dodgers proclaim it's a new season. The days of frustration and underachieving are over. It's time to get ready for a no-holds-barred, in-your-face pennant race.

Just the man to lead them to the promised land, telling the world he's ready to play, may be--are you ready for this?--Delino DeShields.

DeShields, the forgotten man during this second half, made a case for himself Monday night, as the Dodgers ended doubts about whether they could win again in Montreal as well as fears that they would go winless on this trip.

The Dodgers ended their four-game losing streak and 474-day drought in Montreal by defeating the Expos, 7-2, in front of a stunned paid 18,083 at Olympic Stadium.

The victory defied the odds. This is a team that hadn't won a game at Olympic Stadium since May 3, 1994, back when Orel Hershiser was the starting pitcher. Considering the Dodgers were coming off a three-game sweep against the hapless New York Mets, the sullen mood before the game was quite understandable.

"Look at us," Dodger left fielder Roberto Kelly said, disgustedly. "We're tied for first place and we're acting like we're 10 games out. We've got to wake up.

"Someone's got to slap some life into this team."

Say hello to DeShields, the man who spent the last month rotting on the bench, counting the days until he would be freed from the Dodgers, while the Dodgers counted the days until they no longer had to pay him.

In two days, he has won the Dodger starting second base job again, hit two home runs, and after going two for five Monday, has as many hits in 36 hours as he did in the Dodgers' previous 32 games.

"I guess I've got to prove I can play to be in the lineup, huh?" DeShields said. "It got so bad my mom wasn't even looking at the box scores any more. I told her what happened, and she said, 'You played?'

"I've been pretty frustrated. It just seems like ever since I came to L.A., things went wrong.

"But basically, I'm back. The season starts now, and helping get this team to the playoffs would be ideal."

It's possible DeShields might never have been heard from again this season if not for a 20-minute conversation three weeks ago with closer Todd Worrell. Certainly, no one could relate more to DeShields' frustrations. Worrell struggled his first two seasons in Los Angeles, was booed unmercifully by the fans, and it wasn't until this season that he finally felt accepted.

"I think by doing that Delino was making a conscientious effort to change his approach and attitude," Worrell said. "He got a wake-up call when he was put on the bench, and we talked.

"He's gotten a bad rap here, anyway, because he's a hard player to read. Even we have a hard time understanding. Sometimes, it comes across to people that he doesn't care, and that's not the case at all. He just doesn't show his emotions.

"I just told him what I went through. It's different here. And as a player, you get frustrated. It can feel like you've got to give and give and give, and you feel like you're beating your head against the wall.

"But you've got to change because the Dodgers won't. The Dodgers have been doing it their way ever since they moved to L.A., and they're not going to change just for one player.

"Delino recognized that. Now look at him. I mean, hey, we need him. He's a great ballplayer. There's no question he can play this game as good as anybody."

This might be only one victory in a pennant stretch, giving the Dodgers (57-51) a half-game lead over the Colorado Rockies and a three-game lead over the San Diego Padres, but the Dodgers regarded it as a momentous victory.

"You're damn right I'm smiling," Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda said. "You better believe it. We needed that win. And I mean bad."

Lasorda watched Ismael Valdes celebrate his 22nd birthday and win his third consecutive start by yielding six hits and two runs (one earned) in eight innings. He gave himself the game ball as a birthday present.

Lasorda watched Raul Mondesi drive in three runs, including a two-run homer; Mike Piazza hitting a homer, and Chad Fonville and Tim Wallach chipping in two hits each.

Yet, there was nothing more pleasing than the play of DeShields, whom the Dodgers believe could be the key to their fortunes for the pennant drive.

"Let's put it this way," Lasorda said. "That was the real Delino DeShields out there. That was what we saw in Montreal. That's the player we wanted so badly when we brought him over there.

"I really think this could be the start of something good."

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