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Prince Stands In for Piazza

Dodgers: Backup catcher's defense helps preserve 3-2 victory over Phillies in 11 innings.

May 30, 1996|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PHILADELPHIA — Tom Prince stood at home plate for what seemed like an eternity Wednesday night, anxiously awaiting the ball and realizing that burly Pete Incaviglia was running at full speed toward him.

Prince, the Dodgers' only catcher, had precious moments to make a decision.

He could stay planted at home plate, just as he did a year ago when his season was ruined, and risk an injury. Or he could step aside and permit Incaviglia to score.

Prince stayed put, slapped the tag on Incaviglia before he darted across the plate, and became the hero in the Dodgers' 3-2, 11-inning victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.

"I'm going to play the game the way I've always played it," Prince said. "I didn't think twice about moving. I'm not going to do something stupid. I'm not going to take a hit if the score is 12-1 or something, but that was a key play."

Prince prevented the Phillies from scoring the go-ahead run in the sixth inning with his defense, and five innings later came through with his offense.

The Dodgers broke a 1-1 tie in the 11th when Delino DeShields led off with a single, stole second, moved to third on Eric Karros' grounder, and scored on Mike Blowers' sacrifice fly. Prince provided the key insurance run with a two-run double off Ricky Bottalico for a 3-1 lead.

Dodger closer Todd Worrell gave up a leadoff homer to Todd Zeile in the 11th, then hung on for his league-leading 15th save. He also preserved reliever Mark Guthrie's first National League victory.

And it was all made possible because of Prince, the 10-year journeyman replacing All-Star catcher Mike Piazza, sidelined for at least another day because of torn cartilage in his right knee.

"I'm not going to be Mike Piazza," Prince said. "I'm going to be Tom Prince, that's all I can do."

He was called up 10 days ago to replace Carlos Hernandez (sprained back) as the backup catcher. Then, when Piazza suffered a knee injury in the first inning Tuesday, Prince was thrust into action.

Blowers, the third baseman, is the only other player on the roster who has experience behind the plate, catching all of two innings in 1993 for the Seattle Mariners. Infielder Dave Hansen, the designated emergency catcher, never even wore catcher's gear until spring training. In fact, the Dodgers ran out of position players by the 11th inning.

Said Hansen, who pinch-hit in the seventh inning: "Hey, I didn't want to go back there."

Everything was going fine . . . until the sixth inning. Dodger starter Hideo Nomo, staked to a 1-0 lead after Raul Mondesi's second-inning home run, ran into trouble. The Phillies scored one run on Jim Eisenreich's sacrifice fly to clear the bases, but Incaviglia then hit a two-out single. He then shocked the house by stealing second, only his sixth stolen base in the National League.

That brought up Zeile, who hit a grounder up the middle. Second baseman DeShields made a brilliant play by running over to cut the ball off, but Phillie third base coach Larry Bowa waved Incaviglia home.

"I probably would have sent him myself," DeShields said. "Pete was running pretty good. They had to take a chance."

DeShields, off-balance, threw home. The ball was up the line, but Prince stood his ground. On a similar play a year ago, he was leveled June 3 by Jose Vizcaino of the New York Mets. He left the field then with a concussion and bruised left thigh. He didn't return to the Dodgers again until September, watching Hernandez take his job.

Prince decided to give Incaviglia the inside part of the plate, but no more. Prince straddled the line, braced himself for a collision, but Incaviglia decided to go around him. It didn't work.

"I probably should have slid or made contact," Incaviglia said. "When I came around third, I knew there was going to be some contact, but Prince kind of side-stepped the line. I thought I could get him."

Said Nomo, who yielded four hits and one run in six innings: "That was a great help for me."

Prince, 31, will catch again tonight. Maybe again Friday.

"It just feels so great to play in the big leagues again," Prince said. "It's something you dream about growing up."

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