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Giant Step for Dodgers

Baseball: Lead is increased to 1 1/2 games as San Francisco plays fast and loose in the field.

September 25, 1996|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Dodgers took one look at the guys with the black and orange lettering on their uniforms, remembered their glorious rivalry, and told one another that the San Francisco Giants must be taken seriously.

The tactic worked to perfection until the Giants stepped onto the field. The Dodgers spent the rest of Tuesday night simply trying to keep a straight face during their 6-2 victory in front of 37,448 at Dodger Stadium.

The Giants, who were no-hit by Ramon Martinez for the first four innings and self-destructed in the sixth, enabled the Dodgers (89-68) to boost their lead to 1 1/2 games over the San Diego Padres in the National League West and reduce their magic number to four. They also kept their three-game lead over the Montreal Expos in the wild-card race, reducing their magic number of clinching a playoff berth to three.

"Montreal losing has taken a lot of pressure off," second baseman Delino DeShields said. "We win three, and we're in. Ideally, you still want to win the division, but it'd be nice to know you're already in."

Would the Dodgers celebrate a playoff berth, or simply wait until the division title?

"Even if we win the West," DeShields said, "I don't think there'll be a lot of celebrating just because of what happened last year. If I'm going to pop some champagne, it will be later on.

"It's a good accomplishment, and something to be proud of, but it's just the beginning, not the end.

"Maybe I'll drink a couple of beers and just go home."

The Dodgers, who had a raucous celebration last year when they won the NL West, were swept in three games by the Cincinnati Reds in the first round of the playoffs. This time, the Dodgers say, winning the division simply isn't good enough.

"Last year, we were done before it started, really," said first baseman Eric Karros, who figured prominently in the key inning. "Obviously, we have higher expectations this time around. I'm sure guys will be excited when we win [the division], but it will be tamer."

"Put it this way, I'd much rather be in the World Series as a wild card champion than win the division and be out in the first round."

The Giants (65-92), guaranteed of their worst record since 1985 when they lost 100 games, got only two hits and showed why they're one of the worst teams in baseball with their sixth-inning exhibition.

The Giants started to make the game interesting in the fifth when they cut the Dodgers' lead to 3-2, but in the sixth, the suspense turned to laughter.

"It was enough to make a manager's hands a little nervous out there," the Dodgers' Bill Russell said. "You don't know what to expect from a team like this. They're playing a lot of kids out there."

It started when Giant starter Allen Watson walked Mike Piazza. Karros then hit a hard ground ball up the middle. Second baseman Bill Mueller dived to his right, but the ball never arrived. It instead deflected off veteran umpire Paul Runge into left field.

Karros kept running and wound up with a double, with Piazza stopping at third. The play should have been ruled dead according to Rule 5.09 (f), with Piazza required to stop at second.

"I wasn't thinking," Runge said, "all I was thinking about was the pain in my knee."

Said Russell: "I know there's a rule there, but even if the umpire gets out of the way, I don't know if the second baseman can get it."

Raul Mondesi then struck out on a curveball in the dirt. Oops. Catcher Rick Wilkins couldn't keep the ball in front of him, and Mondesi reached first on the wild pitch, loading the bases.

Tim Wallach hit a soft fly ball to shallow left-center. It not only was going to be an out, but it wouldn't be deep enough to score Piazza from third.

But left fielder Barry Bonds and rookie center fielder Marvin Benard weren't talking at all. Bonds stepped aside to allow Benard to catch the ball. Benard backed away to allow Bonds to catch the ball.

The ball dropped in between the two outfielders. The Dodgers had one run in, and still no outs.

That brought up DeShields. but Billy Ashley was walking up behind him to pinch-hit. DeShields, embarrassed by the timing, stormed back to the bench and was furious. He kicked a bucket, threw his glove, walked up the runway, and kicked another bucket.

"All I know is that he was sitting on the bench," said Russell, who plans to have a meeting today with DeShields. "I didn't see anything. I don't expect him to be happy. I expect him to be angry.

"Delino's struggling. He knows. I know it. We all know it.

"Hey, at least we got a big inning out of it."

Ashley hit a sharp grounder toward shortstop Wilson Delgado, the man wearing No. 60 with no name across his back. The ball caromed off Delgado's glove into left field, scoring another run. Greg Gagne, who scored a run in the second inning when Delgado threw the ball away, drove in the Dodgers' final run on a groundout for a 6-2 lead.

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