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Hot Dodgers Still Thriving on Adversity

Baseball: Despite loss of Butler, they complete sweep of Reds with the help of some sloppy Cincinnati fielding.

September 12, 1996|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Many believe that Brett Butler's absence will destroy their season, but the Dodgers disagree.

Just to prove that everything will be fine, the Dodgers went out Wednesday night and knocked off the Cincinnati Reds, 3-2, completing their three-game sweep in front of 27,527 at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers (81-64) maintained their .001 lead over the San Diego Padres in the National League West with their 15th victory in the last 19 games. The Dodgers also maintained their two-game lead over the Montreal Expos in the wild-card race.

"Everybody feels for Brett as a person and human being," first baseman Eric Karros said, "but he was not going to come in and save this team. And just because he's not here now is not going to destroy this team.

"We always thought that if he could come back and help this team, great. But it wasn't like we were waiting for him so we could take off from there.

"We've been playing well before he got here. So is this team going to give up and quit? That's ludicrous.

"We're definitely going to miss him. Nobody on this team can play center field like Brett Butler can. That's a fact. But the bottom line is that he's not with us and there's not a thing we can do about it."

Butler, who broke his hand trying to bunt in Tuesday's game, even talked to the team himself for 10 minutes before the game, making sure there was no self-pity. The Dodgers will be just fine without him, he says. Besides, weren't the Dodgers winning with a platoon of Wayne Kirby and Chad Curtis in center field?

"These five days, I'll never forget as long as I live," Butler said. "So I don't want them to get down about it.

"With all of the garbage we've gone through this year, this team has stayed focused. Tommy [Lasorda] getting a heart attack. Me getting cancer. [Third baseman Mike] Blowers getting hurt. Bop [Delino DeShields] struggling. [Greg] Gagne struggling now. It shows you the team that we have.

"This team is more focused because it's had to be."

Certainly, the Dodgers have shown no effects from their tumultuous season. They are now 17 games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 1991 season and are on a pace to win 90 games.

It hasn't always been pretty, but thanks to the contributions of the Reds' incompetence and Dodger starter Ismael Valdes' pitching--seven innings, five hits and two earned runs--they swept the Reds for the first time since 1993.

"They didn't beat us," Red Manager Ray Knight said, "we just played so poorly we beat ourselves. I feel like my legs back and neck are broken after a series like this. We can't lose games like this, especially this late in the year."

The Dodgers and Reds were scoreless until the fifth inning when the Dodgers relied on the blunders of Cincinnati third baseman Willie Greene.

It began when Tim Wallach hit a slow roller toward Greene. Greene threw wildly to first base, allowing Wallach to reach second. Starter John Smiley (12-13) struck out Billy Ashley and then got Gagne to hit a routine bouncer toward Greene. This time, Greene booted it, and everyone was safe. Valdes then flied to center for the second out.

That brought up Fonville, starting for the first time since July 17, replacing second baseman DeShields in the lineup. Smiley got ahead, 0-and-2, then Fonville hit a check-swing blooper that fell between second baseman Bret Boone and center fielder Eric Davis.

Wallach scored easily from second, and when Davis' throw home sailed wide, Gagne scored and Fonville scooted to third. Curtis then drove home Fonville with a double for a 3-0 lead.

The Reds (73-73), whose playoff hopes were all but mathematically eliminated, came back with a two-run homer by Davis in the sixth inning and threatened in the eighth.

Lenny Harris led off the eighth with an infield single, driving Valdes out of the game and bringing in Mark Guthrie. Curtis Goodwin followed with a two-strike bunt over the pitcher's mound, and when Gagne's throw sailed past Karros, the Reds had runners on second and third with no one out.

Guthrie, the unsung hero in the bullpen this season, then got Thomas Howard to hit a one-hopper back to the mound. He looked toward third, saw Harris wandering off, and threw him out trying to scramble back. Larkin then grounded to Guthrie, who began an inning-ending double play.

Closer Todd Worrell pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his career-high 42nd save.

"We're going to be just fine," Dodger Manager Bill Russell said. "They saw Brett. They talked to Brett. And now they know he's OK.

"Sometimes, a team even rallies around something like this.

"It's been going on all year."

*

* PADRES KEEP PACE

Joyner's single ties Pirates in the eighth and Gomez's hit beats them in ninth. C4

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