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Dodgers Grin and Win

Baseball: They trounce Padres, 9-2, to make sure they will leave town in first place today.

September 22, 1996|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Dodger players break into an expansive grins, start giggling, and then do everything in their power to keep from breaking into hysterics.

Come on, you believe these guys are feeling pennant-stretch pressure?

The Dodgers spent Saturday morning passing a football around in the clubhouse, then used a seven-run fifth inning to trounce the San Diego Padres, 9-2, in front of a sellout crowd of 53,629 at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

The Dodgers (88-67) moved 1 1/2 games ahead of the Padres (87-69) in the National League West race.

The Dodgers, whose magic number for clinching the division was reduced to six, recognize that the worst thing that can happen is that they leave town today still in first place.

Yet, considering they have Hideo Nomo on the mound today, with visions of Johnny Vander Meer dancing in his head, the Dodgers know they can bring the Padres to their knees with a victory. Nomo will try to join Vander Meer as the only pitchers in major league history to throw back-to-back no-hitters.

"I don't know if that will happen," said Dodger second baseman Delino DeShields, who produced two hits after being summoned for a meeting Saturday morning with Manager Bill Russell, "but I know we like our chances with him on the mound."

The Dodgers got a two-run single from Mike Piazza and a three-run double from Raul Mondesi in their seven-run fifth inning and coasted behind the pitching of Ismael Valdes. If the Dodgers win today, they would have to win only two of three against the San Francisco Giants and one of three against the Padres to clinch the title.

The Dodgers, playing their most critical series of the season, have outscored the Padres, 18-6, in the first three games.

For the first time this season, the powerful Padre trio of Tony Gwynn, Steve Finley and Ken Caminiti was held without a hit while in the starting lineup. After Jody Reed's two-run homer in the second inning, the Padres produced only a two-out single by Rickey Henderson in the fifth and a two-out single by Brian Johnson in the ninth.

"When they're on like they are, all you can do is tip your cap," said Gwynn, who is vying for his seventh batting title with a league-leading .351 average but is hitless in his last nine at-bats since opening the series with consecutive singles. "I can't remember two games [Ramon Martinez on Thursday and Valdes on Saturday] where they have been hitting their spots like they have. I mean, they're not just hitting the corners, they're hitting the black."

The Padres had a 2-1 lead after four innings, after Reed's second home run in only 469 at-bats offsetting Eric Karros' career-high 33rd homer.

Valdes, 3-0 with a 2.57 earned-run average in September, decided it was time to take matters into his own hands in the fifth. He watched Greg Gagne strike out for the first out, and then tried something he never tried before--bunting for a hit.

Valdes, with Caminiti playing deep, popped up a bunt toward third base. It was perfect. Caminiti ran up, Padre starter Scott Sanders ran into him, and Valdes was safe.

"I don't know why I tried it," said Valdes, who gave up two runs and three hits in seven innings. "I have no idea. It's just something I wanted to do."

Said Russell: "I had no idea he was going do that, but the next thing I know, we've got seven runs."

Todd Hollandsworth followed with a single up the middle, bringing up Wayne Kirby, who drilled a 1-and-2 pitch into left field, loading the bases for Piazza.

Piazza swung at the first pitch and drove a single to left, scoring Valdes and Hollandsworth. And when left fielder Henderson missed the cutoff man, Kirby took third and Piazza scooted to second.

Padre Manager Bruce Bochy ordered Sanders to intentionally walk Karros. That brought up Mondesi, and Bochy summoned Sean Bergman out of the bullpen.

It took one pitch for Mondesi to put the game out of reach.

Mondesi slammed Bergman's first pitch, a fastball, into the left-center gap for a three-run double, advancing to third on the throw home. Mondesi, who produced as many hits--four--as the entire Padre team, is batting .420 with 22 RBIs during the last 20 games.

The rout continued after Tim Wallach flied out to center for the second out. DeShields, who was in a three-for-50 slump, singled to left for the sixth run in the inning. He stole second and scored on Gagne's double to left.

The inning finally ended when Valdes bounced out to Caminiti, who angrily threw to first base. The final tally: 11 batters, seven hits, two doubles, seven runs, one intentional walk and one strikeout.

"There's a long way to go," Karros said, "but we've been playing awfully well for two months now. Maybe we've played better during parts of the season, but not as consistently well over this long of a period of time.

"We're just having fun."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

THE NL WEST STRETCH DRIVE

WEST DIVISION RACE *--*

WEST W L Pct. GB Dodgers 88 67 .568 -- San Diego 87 69 .558 1 1/2 WILD-CARD RACE TEAM W L Pct. GB San Diego 87 69 .558 -- Montreal 85 69 .552 1

*--*

One wild-card team qualifies for the playoffs.

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