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SHOWDOWN: Dodgers and Padres

Dodgers: Even a 6-4 loss to Rockies doesn't dim team's spirit heading into crucial four-game series against the Padres.

September 19, 1996|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DENVER — It is as if their emotions finally have become numb.

The Dodgers' manager left because of a heart attack. Their center fielder was out because of cancer, returned, only to be sidelined because of a broken hand. They lost their starting third baseman for the season, and their starting shortstop and ace of the pitching staff for more than a month.

"You can't describe the ups and downs this team has gone through," catcher Mike Piazza said Wednesday after the Dodgers' 6-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies. "I think every season after this will be really boring."

Now, after all of the trauma this team has endured, the Dodgers are faced with their biggest obstacle.

They must face the Padres in a four-game series at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

"After all of this team has gone through," Piazza said, "you wonder what we have left. But this will be good. This is what everybody's waiting for the whole season.

"Maybe now, we can get down to some baseball."

The Dodgers (86-66), who will play the Padres (86-67) seven times in the next 10 games, begin today's game with a half-game lead over the Padres. The teams have not been separated by more than 2 1/2 games since June 9.

"This is what we've been waiting for," Manager Bill Russell said. "We've had our eyes on them all season, and they've had their eyes on us.

"Our guys have found a way to rise to the occasion, and so have theirs.

"It always looked like it would come to this point, and it has.

"This is what it's all about, right?"

The Dodgers say they've endured too much pain and heartache for anyone to ruin their season now.

"We will win this; we have to win it," right fielder Raul Mondesi said. "This team has a lot of confidence. Come on, we've gone through too much.

"Besides, we still have a half-game lead. We have no pressure. The pressure is all on them."

The Dodgers, who have won 20 of 26 games, say the distractions this season have made them much more focused on the playing field. They haven't been worrying about the Padres' success. They haven't worried about who's pitching against the Padres, what lineups are being used against the Padres, even what the Padres are saying.

"All we've done is worry about ourselves," third baseman Tim Wallach said, "and I think our play reflects that. We're just going series by series. I'm not saying we don't look at the scoreboard and see what the Padres are doing each game, but it's not a concern.

"If we play well, we'll be there at the end.

"It's that simple."

The Dodgers barely showed hints of concern about losing Wednesday in front of a sellout crowd of 48,083 at Coors Field. They lost a game in the standings to the Padres, but they were content with winning two of the three games. They came to Coors Field with a half-game lead over the Padres and left town with a half-game lead.

"You come in here and win two of three games against the Rockies at their place," Russell said, "and you've got to be pleased. I like our position.

"We come into San Diego in first place, so they have to take it away from us. We're on top, so they have to come and get it from us. If that's added pressure on them, then that's what we want."

The Dodgers officially eliminated the Rockies from the division race during their stay, but the Rockies avoided a sweep.

The Dodgers jumped to a 3-0 lead by the third inning. Yet, Pedro Astacio (9-8), who had not lost a game since July 7, suddenly started to unravel.

The Rockies, who were no-hit Tuesday night by Hideo Nomo and wondering if it was going to happen again, got a break when Astacio walked No. 7 batter Steve Decker. Rookie Neifi Perez then singled up the middle for the Rockies' first hit in 11 1/3 innings, drawing sarcastic applause.

"It's probably one of the toughest hits we've ever had to get," Dante Bichette said. "Once we got that hit, it's like everybody started getting back to what we were supposed to do."

Said Rocky Manager Don Baylor: "I was starting to think we'd never get a hit."

The Rockies capitalized when Armando Reynoso sacrificed the runners into scoring position for Eric Young, who hit a two-run triple to center field. Young scored on Quinton McCracken's groundout.

The Dodgers took a 4-3 lead in the fourth on rookie Todd Hollandsworth's one-out triple, but he remained stranded. It was the beginning of the end. The Dodgers didn't get a hit the rest of the game, hitting the ball out of the infield only four times.

The Rockies tied the score in the fourth on Jeff Reed's groundout, and then put the game away with Andres Galarraga's 46th home run in the fifth inning and Perez's RBI double in the eighth.

"When you have a 3-0 lead, you've got to take advantage of it and put the team away," Piazza said. "You've got to at least make them swing the bat, and then get us back in the dugout.

"We didn't do that, but I tell you what, we better do that against the Padres.

"It's that time of year."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

THE NL WEST Stretch Drive

WEDNESDAY'S RESULTS

Colorado 6, Dodgers 4

San Diego 8, San Francisco 5

WEST DIVISION RACE

*--*

WEST W L Pct. GB Dodgers 86 66 .566 -- San Diego 86 67 .562 1/2

*--*

WILD-CARD RACE

*--*

TEAM W L Pct. GB San Diego 86 67 .562 -- Montreal 84 67 .556 1 Colorado 80 73 .523 6 Houston 78 75 .510 8

*--*

One wild-card team qualifies for the playoffs.

*

* WHAT A RACE

What happens when teams that leave the starting line together in April are this close in late September? A1

* NICE TO HAVE A GUY HITTING .350 ON BENCH

Tony Gwynn had two singles as a late-inning replacement and figured in a key eighth-inning rally as the Padres defeated the Giants to cut the Dodgers' lead to half a game. C5

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