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Dodgers Eck One Out

Baseball: Wallach's two-run single against St. Louis ace caps four-run, eighth-inning rally and gives them 6-5 victory.

September 16, 1996|CHRIS BAKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The last thing the Dodgers see before they walk out of the clubhouse to the field is a sign above the door that reads, "The road to the WORLD SERIES begins here."

The Dodgers remained on the road to the postseason with a dramatic two-out, four-run, eighth-inning rally against their old friend Dennis Eckersley to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals, 6-5, Sunday before 35,803 at Dodger Stadium.

"This tells you more about the character of this team--they never give up," Dodger Manager Bill Russell said after watching his team post its 35th come-from-behind victory. "[The Cardinals] were thinking about packing their bags with Eckersley in there."

It was the 15th time that the Dodgers, who trailed 5-2 going into the eighth inning, have won in their final at-bat. The Dodgers, who have won 12 of their last 14 games, maintained their half-game lead over the San Diego Padres in the National League West. The Dodgers have 13 games remaining in the regular season, including seven against the Padres.

"This is the best time of the season," said first baseman Eric Karros, who had two hits in four at-bats, including a run-scoring, ground-rule double in the eighth. "I heard [Cardinal Manager] Tony La Russa make a comment that this is the time of year where you're nervous as heck, sick to your stomach and you can't sleep but you can't wait to get to the ballpark again the next day, and that's really the way it's been.

"This is what we play for all year long, you either rise up to the occasion or you'll be watching the playoffs in October."

The Dodgers rose to the occasion against Eckersley, who has 351 saves, 28 this season.

Eckersley, who was part of the most dramatic moment in Dodger history when he surrendered Kirk Gibson's stunning ninth-inning home run in the first game of the 1988 World Series, gave up a run-scoring single to Raul Mondesi, an RBI-ground rule double to Karros and a two-run single to third baseman Tim Wallach as the Dodgers, who had stranded 10 runners in the first seven innings, overcame a three-run deficit.

"This hasn't been a good park for me, but I'll figure it out, I'll get another chance," Eckersley said. "That [Gibson's home run] was a long time ago, you've got to forget about it."

After falling behind, 0-2, Mondesi hit a 3-and-2 pitch through the hole at short to drive in Oreste Marrero, who had drawn a one-out walk from reliever Mark Petkovsek.

"That's how Mondesi is going now," Russell said. "He's a great talent, all he needs to do is be more patient at the plate and more selective. Maybe two months ago he would have struck out."

After Karros bounced a double into the right-field box seats on a two-strike pitch to drive in Wayne Kirby--who had drawn a two-out walk from Petkovsek--Wallach singled to left to drive in Mondesi and Karros.

"I was happy to get the hit because I really wasn't swinging the bat well earlier in the game," said Wallach, who fouled out and grounded out twice in his first three at-bats. "I think he was trying to get the ball in and he got a little more of the plate than he wanted to. He doesn't make that mistake very often."

Eckersley, who was charged with two runs on three hits in one-third of an inning, said he made a mistake.

"I wasn't expecting Wallach to turn on the ball," he said. "I was expecting him to hit it to right field. One out, that's all I needed. I'll get another chance."

Wallach, who had two hits in five at-bats and drove in three runs, has played a key role in the Dodgers' drive for their second consecutive NL West title. The Dodgers are 24-9 since Wallach was signed last July after being waived by the Angels.

"Ever since we acquired him you could sense something happening here in the clubhouse and on the bench," Russell said. "It makes my job easier having him out there running the infield. He's a veteran and you don't replace experience this time of year. It's so important to a team."

After starter Tom Candiotti gave up five runs on seven hits in 3 2/3 innings, and the Dodgers fell behind, 5-1, in the fourth inning, Chan Ho Park, Scott Radinsky and Todd Worrell combined to shut out the Cardinals for 5 1/3 hitless innings.

Worrell pitched a scoreless ninth for his 43rd save.

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