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Dodgers Walk Tall With Wallach

Baseball: Veteran third baseman who has instilled renewed confidence seals 7-2 victory over Reds with two-run double.

September 10, 1996|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dodger players will look directly into your eyes, tell you straight to your face, and declare this attitude should not be confused with arrogance.

They say it is not even an aura of cockiness.

Simply, they say, it is pure, unadulterated confidence.

It's this confidence that was responsible for yet another comeback, leading the Dodgers to a 7-2 romp Monday night over the Cincinnati Reds, keeping them percentage points ahead in the National League West.

The Dodgers' seventh comeback in the last two weeks, in front of a paid 29,081 at Dodger Stadium, leaves them one game ahead of the San Diego Padres in the loss column. The Dodgers (79-64) and Padres (80-65) also moved one game ahead of the Montreal Expos (78-65) in the wild-card race.

"This team has more confidence than last year's team," said Dodger third baseman Tim Wallach, who sealed the victory with a two-run double in the Dodgers' five-run, fifth inning. "Nobody here takes anything for granted, but we've come back quite a bit the last month.

"There's a lot of talent in this room, and we never feel out of it.

"You can tell that by the way we're playing."

The Dodgers easily are playing their finest baseball of the season, winning 13 of their last 17 games and 27 of their last 43. And no one is more responsible for this resurgence of confidence, Dodger Manager Bill Russell said, than Wallach.

Wallach joined the team Aug. 11, hit a grand slam in his first game against the Reds, and the Dodgers since have won 19 of 27 games.

"There's a different feeling in the clubhouse," Russell said, "and I think it started with Wallach.

"You just sense a confident feeling. They know they're going to find some way to win, and they do. They're putting together a pretty good run here, and that tells you a lot about the character of this team."

The Dodgers' latest comeback was forced to start just moments after the national anthem ended. The Reds took a 2-0 lead after Thomas Howard hit Ramon Martinez's first pitch for a home run, and Hal Morris followed by hitting a 1-and-2 pitch over the right-field fence for another homer.

How stunning were the back-to-back homers? The homers equaled the entire total that Martinez had yielded in his last eight starts, spanning 50 2/3 innings.

Instead of wavering, Martinez, who is 6-1 in the nine games following Dodger losses, shrugged it off and dominated the Reds. Martinez did not permit another run, and allowed only one baserunner to reach third base during the remainder of his six-inning performance.

"Those guys know I throw a lot of fastballs," Martinez (12-6) said, "they were jumping on them. After the first inning, I pitched a lot different. I threw a lot more breaking pitches.

"If I don't have a problem the first three innings, it's a little bit difficult to get me."

Martinez shut down the Reds and then sat back and watched his teammates reward him, breaking the game open with five runs in the fifth inning. The Dodgers' offensive surge featured Raul Mondesi's three hits and three runs batted in, Todd Hollandsworth's three hits and three runs, Wallach's two RBIs, first baseman Eric Karros' 100th RBI and catcher Mike Piazza's career-high 16-game hitting streak.

"You can't ask for anything more than that," Russell said, "shutting down a team like that. With the first inning, I didn't know what to expect. But he came out right out after that and stopped him."

Mondesi, whom Russell calls the key to the Dodgers' offense during the stretch, was instrumental in the comeback. Mondesi drove in the Dodgers' first run with a single in the fourth, provided the Dodgers a 4-2 lead in the fifth with a two-run double, and hit another double in the sixth when Karros was thrown out at the plate.

Mondesi sprained his right ankle sliding into third base on the play, and left the game. His status is day-to-day and Mondesi is hopeful of returning to the lineup possibly tonight.

"I'd be surprised if he doesn't play tomorrow," Russell said, "it was just a little sprain."

Karros, who drove in the Dodgers' final run in the sixth, became the first Dodger to drive in 100 runs in back-to-back seasons since Pedro Guerrero in 1982-1983. He also is the first first baseman since Gil Hodges in 1953-1954 to produce 30 homers and 100 RBIs in consecutive seasons.

"It's a nice benchmark," Karros said. "It means I'm producing and doing my job. It is more important for me to hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs than hit .300 with 50 RBIs and 10 homers.

"But the bottom line for me is winning.

"It doesn't mean anything unless we make the playoffs."

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