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Dodgers Can Find a Silver Lining

Baseball: Even with 12-inning loss to Mets that drops them out of first, they feel good about successful trip.

September 05, 1996|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — No one screamed in frustration. No one cursed aloud in the clubhouse.

Sure, the Dodgers dropped out of first place in the National League West by losing, 3-2, in 12 innings Wednesday night to the New York Mets at Shea Stadium. They even fell behind the Montreal Expos in the wild-card race.

If the playoffs were to start today, the Dodgers would be sitting home.

But a funny thing has happened.

No one is overly concerned.

The Dodgers (76-63) left for their long flight home feeling as good about themselves as any time since the All-Star break. They realize they just produced their best record on the two East Coast trips since the advent of divisional play in 1969, winning 12 of 18 games--including six of nine this trip.

And now, for a confidence boost, is a look at the schedule.

They will play all but three of their final 23 games at Dodger Stadium or in San Diego. Their only games outside Southern California will be a three-game series against the Rockies on Sept. 16-18 at Coors Field.

"We're in good position," Dodger Manager Bill Russell said. "You'd like to be in first place, but we feel good where we are."

The Dodgers, who still have won 10 of their last 13 games and 17 of the last 24, watched their bullpen pitch five shutout innings against the Mets until the 12th.

Darren Dreifort, pitching his second inning of relief, yielded a leadoff single to Alvaro Espinoza. Lance Johnson followed with a single, and pinch-hitter Brent Mayne advanced the runners with a perfect bunt. That brought Carl Everett to the plate, and Russell brought the infield in.

Everett slapped a 1-and-1 pitch toward second baseman Delino DeShields, who took the high hop and realized it would take a perfect throw. But his off-balance throw was to the right side of the plate, and catcher Mike Piazza didn't have a chance to even tag Espinoza.

"It was going to be a bang-bang play," DeShields said. "I was just trying to get rid of it fast and make a good throw. But even with a good throw itself, it would have been close."

Still, despite the defeat, the Dodgers were upbeat. They hardly are ready to purchase a case of champagne for a possible championship celebration, but they believe they are in an enviable position.

"These final three weeks are going to be fun," first baseman Eric Karros said. "Every game we play is a pressure game.

"Last year was close, but it didn't seem like the race shaped up until the last week. This one started a week and a half ago. People say you shouldn't be scoreboard watching, but what's the big deal? You can't help but scoreboard watch.

"You could be competing for the division title that last week, fall apart, and be whacked."

The Dodgers, who are tied in the loss column with the division-leading San Diego Padres, nearly pulled out this game in the eighth inning. Piazza, celebrating his 28th birthday, drew a one-out walk. Karros was then robbed of a hit when rookie shortstop Rey Ordonez dove to his left, smothered Karros' grounder, and while on the ground, blindly flipped the ball over his left shoulder to force Piazza at second base.

Karros, realizing there would be little chance for him to score from first base, decided to steal second. He took off, got a great jump, and slid in safely ahead of catcher Todd Hundley's throw for his sixth stolen base--the most since 1990 when he was playing for double-A San Antonio.

It proved to be an ingenious move when Raul Mondesi, who cost the Dodgers a run when he threw over Karros' head as the cutoff man in the fifth inning, singled to center to tie the score, 2-2.

The Dodgers are hoping that their greatest advantage down the stretch will be experience. The Padres have not been in the playoffs since 1984, and with the exception of 1989, have been eliminated before the final week.

"The only trouble is that it's different this time just because of all of the things we went through on and off the field this year," Karros said. "Last year, [the pennant race] was our main focus. The only distraction we had was [Hideo] Nomo.

"This year, we've had the Brett Butler situation, Tim Wallach coming back, and the managerial change. We haven't played with [Tom Lasorda] for [53] games, but we still go into towns and people are asking, 'So what's it like without Tommy?'

"This ballclub has overcome a lot, and now hopefully we're starting to put it together at the right time."

*

* GWYNN HEATING UP

Tony Gwynn went four for four and scored both San Diego runs as the Padres beat the Phillies, 2-1, to regain first place. C3

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

NL Playoff Race at a Glance DIVISION

*--*

WEST W L Pct. GB San Diego 78 63 .553 -- Dodgers 76 63 .547 1

*--*

*--*

CENTRAL W L Pct. GB St. Louis 75 65 .536 -- Houston 74 67 .525 1 1/2 Cincinnati 70 69 .504 4 1/2

*--*

*--*

EAST W L Pct. GB Atlanta 84 55 .604 -- Montreal 76 62 .551 7 1/2

*--*

WILD CARD

*--*

TEAM W L Pct. GB Montreal 76 62 .551 -- Dodgers 76 63 .547 1/2 Houston 74 67 .525 3 1/2 Colorado 71 69 .507 6 Cincinnati 70 69 .504 6 1/2

*--*

One wild-card team qualifies for the playoffs.

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