CINCINNATI — Owner Marge Schott, desperate enough to help her beleaguered manager, and goofy enough to try anything, grabbed her dog Friday afternoon, marched down to the Cincinnati Reds clubhouse, and gave a pep talk to Ray Knight.
Knight listened, patted Schottzie 02, walked out with a handful of dog hair for good luck, and voila!
The Reds, baseball's worst team, finally won a game by defeating one of baseball's worst offensive teams, the Dodgers, 4-2, before a stunned crowd of 24,556 at Riverfront Stadium.
Schott has been known to go to drastic measures for victories, even sprinkling hair from her dead dog, Schottzie 01, on the players this season for good luck. Considering the way the Dodger offense has been going, leave it to knuckleballer Tom Candiotti to come up with his own idea of psychotherapy.
"I'm telling you, a dog is the best psychiatrist you can have," said Candiotti, who pitched two shutout innings. "As a pitcher, you've got to guard against pointing fingers at the offense of anyone else. It's not like they're not trying to score runs.
"That's why you've got to get a dog. They're great. 'You go home at night, look them in the face, and say, 'Can't you score some runs?'
"And they never talk back.
"They just bark or lick you.
"Really, it's great therapy."
The Dodger pitching staff, with the lowest earned-run average in baseball, may all soon be heading to the local kennels if this offensive trend continues much longer.
The Dodgers once again watched their offense fail miserably, this time losing to Red starter Mike Morgan (1-4). This is the same pitcher who had not won a game in his last 10 starts, going 0-7 since his last victory Sept. 13, 1996. In fact, he had not defeated the Dodgers in five years.
This night, he pitched a perfect game for the first five innings until Eric Anthony broke it up with a leadoff double in the sixth. The Dodgers got only four hits and one run off Morgan in seven innings, and finished with six hits. Dodger starter Chan Ho Park (2-2), who yielded four seven hits and four runs in five innings, never had a chance to recover.
The Dodger offense has struggled so severely that they are tied with the Reds for the fewest runs in baseball. They have scored two or fewer runs in six of their last 12 games, just splitting two series against baseball's two worst teams--the Chicago Cubs and Reds.
"Things have got to change," Dodger catcher Mike Piazza said. "We're not going to be able to play like this all year and be competitive."
Piazza, the Dodgers' No. 3 hitter, doesn't want to point fingers. He realizes that he and cleanup hitter Eric Karros are as much to blame as anyone of late. Piazza is hitting only .077 in the last eight games, and his solo homer in the ninth was his first RBI since May 4. Karros has driven in only one run this entire month.
Yet, the primary source of trouble, Piazza said, is that there are precious few baserunners when he and Karros come up. Opponents can pitch around Piazza and Karros as long as the bases are empty.
Indeed, in the nine games since Todd Hollandsworth inherited the leadoff spot, he and No. 2 hitter Greg Gagne have combined for a .200 on-base percentage. Incredibly, neither player has drawn a walk in the nine games.
"We're a little stagnant now," Piazza said. "We're playing station-to-station. We don't have that catalyst to get one base and open holes.
"You're asking Todd to do a lot as a leadoff guy. He's doing a great job doing something he's not used to doing. What can you say?"
If leadoff hitter Brett Butler is unable to return from his shoulder injury, Piazza suggested it might be time to look for outside help.
"You look at the obvious and decide what direction to go in," Piazza said. "I'm not saying what to do, or who to get, but we need something to happen."
Meanwhile, Manager Bill Russell is trying everything. He benched left fielder Billy Ashley for the second time in three games and started left-handed hitter Eric Anthony. Russell now is considering a platoon with Anthony and Ashley.
"I'd love to be the guy out there," Anthony said. "Nobody wants to sit on the bench."
Said Ashley, who would be left on the bench most of the time: "No comment."
Certainly, something is going to have to give. The Dodgers have defeated only one starting pitcher all year who won more than 10 games last season--John Smiley of the Reds.
"There's no excuses," Karros said, "we're just not hitting right now. That's just the way it is. But we're still winning games."
Said Russell: "What do you want me to say? There is no explanation."