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Nomo Can't Catch Marlins

Dodgers: After 17-strikeout performance last week, they bite back early and beat him, 7-4. Piazza gets first homer.

April 21, 1996|BOB NIGHTENGALE TIMES STAFF WRITER

MIAMI — The Florida Marlins sat back in the clubhouse Saturday afternoon enjoying the NFL draft when Manager Rene Lachemann entered the room. He took one look at the TV screen and immediately ordered the draft to be turned off.

If the players wanted to watch TV so badly, they could entertain themselves by watching the videotape of their last game against Hideo Nomo. The Marlins were forced to not only watch all of Nomo's 17 strikeouts, but listen to Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully describe them.

"Hey, this is a bad idea watching you guys strike out 17 times," Marlin pitcher John Burkett said before Florida's 7-4 victory. "I wouldn't want to watch a team hit 17 homers off me, I know that."

The viewing proved to be a catharsis for the Marlins, who pounced on Nomo andcoasted past the Dodgers in front of a paid crowd of 35,542 at Joe Robbie Stadium.

"I guess we proved that Mr. Nomo is a human being," Lachemann said. "He's a very good pitcher, but he's not going to strike out 17 every time out. Not against us.

"This guy is legitimate. He'll be back. But if we miss him next time, that's fine by me. We don't need to see him anymore."

The Marlins tied a franchise record by opening the game with five consecutive hits off Nomo, and knocked him out of the game in the fifth inning. Nomo yielded seven hits and six runs [four earned], including a 453-foot home run by Gary Sheffield that caromed off the facing in the upper deck. It was the second-longest homer by a Marlin at Joe Robbie Stadium.

"He's a good pitcher, I'm not going to take anything away from him," Sheffield said, "but we learned what we needed to do. If you look for the forkball, you got no chance.

"The only way you can hit him is to wait for his fastball, and that's what we did tonight."

Lachemann and his coaching staff studied the videotape of Nomo in his three previous starts against the Marlins and came up with an interesting discovery. Nomo had thrown 108 first-pitch fastballs to the 128 hitters he faced. The strategy became obvious: Swing at that first pitch.

The Marlins produced four of their seven hits, including Sheffield's homer, on first-pitch fastballs. Nomo never had a chance. There were no illusions of a record-setting performance this night. Nomo recorded only six strikeouts--striking out the No. 7-No. 9 hitters two times apiece.

So how can a team look so futile against Nomo and seven days later knock him into oblivion?

"'I don't care who you are," Marlin left fielder Jeff Conine said, "you're not going to strike us out 17 times twice in one week. He didn't have a real good fastball, and when he doesn't, his forkball is not as effective. We could relax."

The Marlins realized at the outset this was not vintage Nomo.

Before Nomo could even break a sweat, the Marlins had a 3-0 lead and loaded the bases. He escaped further damage when he struck out the next three batters.

Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda immediately summoned him.

"I told him, 'You don't give up any more runs and we'll beat these guys,' " Lasorda said.

Instead, Nomo gave up the mammoth blast to Sheffield in the second inning, his seventh of the season and 17th since Sept. 1, 1996. In the fifth, he yielded a leadoff double to Joe Orsulak. Sheffield then hit a hard grounder to third baseman Mike Blowers, and Eric Karros was unable to handle his throw in the dirt. Nomo walked Conine, loading the bases for Terry Pendleton. When Pendleton hit a deep sacrifice fly, Lasorda took Nomo out of the game.

"I regret the second inning and fifth inning," Nomo (2-2) said, "because if I shut them out after the first inning, I give us a chance to win. I just had bad control."

Said Dodger pitching coach Dave Wallace: "He just got behind, and when you do that and make bad pitches, you're going to get hit. This is the big leagues. Everybody's out to get this guy."

The Dodgers wasted Mike Piazza's first home run of the season and Brett Butler's four-hit performance. Piazza's sixth-inning homer snapped the longest drought of his career at 65 at-bats and 71 plate appearances.

"I'm kind of numb," Piazza said. "It's a little frustrating for everybody right now. We're a better ballclub than we're showing.

" Right now, everybody is waiting for everybody else to step forward. We can't do that. Not one person is going to carry this ballclub.

"We need to make a statement to show what kind of ballclub we have.

"Hopefully, we can do that soon."

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