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MIKE DOWNEY

Mondesi Triples, er, Doubles His Pleasure

September 22, 1996|Mike Downey

SAN DIEGO — Throwing a first-pitch fastball to Raul Mondesi is like throwing red meat to a lion. Sean Bergman made that mistake Saturday in the San Diego Padres' 9-2 loss, and as one Dodger, off the record, said after the game, "How stupid was that?"

Mondesi, who is hitting a torrid .420 over the last 20 games, ripped Bergman's first pitch into the left-field gap for a three-run double, which should have been scored a triple because Mondy wasn't stopping at second, even if it meant making poor Eric Karros keep huffing and puffing like a claimer at Del Mar.

"Double, triple, doesn't matter," said Mondesi, whose 68 extra-base hits are the most for any Dodger since the team moved to L.A.

Karros was on base ahead of him because the Padres felt they had to swallow hard and intentionally walk Karros to get to Mondesi. They were trying to stop the bleeding in what became a seven-run inning, but somebody forgot to tell Bergman when he arrived from the bullpen to throw his first pitch to Mondesi anywhere but over the plate.

Knowing Mondesi, he probably would have hacked at it. Mondesi is the Manny Sanguillen of the '90s, a batter who steps out of the dugout swinging and believes in taking a pitch about as often as a kid in a coin-op batting cage. Mondy later repeated his personal philosophy, which is: "If you don't swing at it, you can't hit it."

Mondesi had as many hits--four--as the entire San Diego team.

He was the first batter Bergman faced, when Manager Bruce Bochy pulled his Padre pitcher after watching four consecutive singles and the pass to Karros. This very big ballgame was coming apart at the seams for San Diego, even to the extent that a brawl erupted in the grandstand, in the ugliest scene at this stadium since Roseanne sang the anthem.

Ismael Valdes had ignited the rally with a bunt, because Todd Hollandsworth and other Dodgers had tipped him that Padre pitcher Scott Sanders had a habit of falling awkwardly off the mound on his follow-through. Valdes called it "just lucky," the fact that his popped-up bunt dropped not only out of Sanders' reach, but that of third baseman Ken Caminiti, who for some reason was playing Valdes as deep as if Albert Belle were at bat.

Rocket Ismael legged it out, and that was the big inning's beginning.

Swing-away singles by Hollandsworth, Wayne Kirby and Mike Piazza followed, putting the Dodgers in front for the first time all day, 3-2, and leaving first base open. This is when the Padres had to choose between the frying pan and the fire and decided to avoid Karros, preferring to pitch to a man who has been wearing out National League pitchers for four months.

So eager a beaver is Mondesi that he probably would have swung at the first pitch had Bergman bounced it in on five hops. Mondesi wasn't even positive what it was--"fastball, slider, something"--but the pitch was fat and juicy and right in his kitchen, so Mondy made mincemeat of it. Kirby jogged home. Piazza chugged home. Karros took one look at third-base coach Joey Amalfitano, rounded third and made it home without much strain.

Mondesi, meantime, covered the 270 feet like Michael Johnson covers 200 meters.

Impressed by the Dodger right fielder in general, Padre batting coach Merv Rettenmund took his hat off to Mondesi later, saying, "The most impressive thing he did was on that triple. [The one that was scored a double.] Amalfitano had to work hard to get Karros home ahead of him, because Mondesi was already there.

"There's not too many guys with his talent," Rettenmund added. "The sky's the limit. This guy will eventually put up unbelievable numbers. He cuts off doubles, saves a lot of runs in the field, and he's got that great arm. And he plays so hard. He plays the way the game should be played."

It was right here in Jack Murphy Stadium where the Dodgers confirmed their reservation to the 1995 playoffs last September, by virtue of a Mondesi home run. When someone wondered if Mondesi particularly enjoyed hitting in this park, Mondy just shrugged and said, "No, it doesn't matter. Excuse me, I've got to go catch the bus." Same as in the game, there was just no stopping him.

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