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BASEBALL EXTRA / INTERLEAGUE PLAY | BASEBALL / ROSS
NEWHAN

In New Math, Dodgers and Angels Face Long Division

June 19, 1997|ROSS NEWHAN

Interleague or interlude, the games have counted, but now there's no doubt about it.

Now the Dodgers and Angels return to the reality of their division races--a potential make-or-break stretch for both teams through the All-Star break.

The Dodgers, six games behind the San Francisco Giants in the National League West, play 17 of their next 21 games within the division, including eight against the Giants, against whom they open a four-game series in San Francisco tonight.

They then have a nine-game home stand, including three with the Colorado Rockies, four with the San Diego Padres and two with the Texas Rangers before playing two games against the Angels in Anaheim and three in San Diego going into the break, which is followed by another four-game series with the Giants at Dodger Stadium.

The Angels, 3 1/2 games behind the Seattle Mariners in the American League West, play 20 of their next 24 within the division, including seven against the Mariners.

They open a four-game series against the Oakland Athletics in Anaheim tonight, then go on the road for three in Texas, four in Seattle and two in Colorado before returning to Anaheim for two with the Dodgers and three with the Mariners before the break, after which they play four in Oakland and host Texas for two.

"I think that next road trip [against Texas, Seattle and Colorado] is the biggest series of games we've had all year," Angel Manager Terry Collins said before his team absorbed another bullpen setback Wednesday night, losing to the Dodgers, 7-5, after Billy Ashley's two-run, pinch-hit homer off Mike Holtz in the seventh.

"There's been a lot of excitement and adrenaline involved in these interleague games, and we've got to realize that starting tomorrow we have to stay at that same level," Collins said.

Reflecting on tonight's opener of the four-game series with the Giants, Dodger first baseman Eric Karros said:

"I think it's too early to say we're at a crossroads, but it's time for us to start playing like we're capable of playing. We haven't exactly put ourselves in a favorable position, but we have a chance to make amends or go in a hole so deep we can't get out.

"We have to play every game like it's our last game right up until the All-Star break if we're going to get back in it."

The first interleague phase ended with the Dodgers 3-3 and the Angels 1-5. A profitable exercise at the gate but costly in the standings.

With more than a third of the season gone, the Dodgers are forced to acknowledge that the Giants are for real and past the point of surprise.

One statistic illustrates how well the Giants have executed: They are 27-14 in games decided by two runs or less.

"They have a lot of new faces, but they're experienced faces," Dodger Manager Bill Russell said. "They're doing the little things, not making mistakes. And all the close games they're winning now are big at the end of the year.

"It's a big series for us and we have to rise to the occasion. The guys know what's at stake. I don't have to say anything to them.

"We obviously have an opportunity to pick up ground on all of the teams in our division during this stretch, to reestablish our own confidence, but we have to play mistake-free baseball, we have to execute."

More than that, the Dodgers have to find a way to maintain some offense. They are 12th in the league in runs, 13th in on-base percentage.

"What's made the Giants so good is that every day it's been somebody different," Karros said. "They're not just sitting on Barry Bonds. That's what makes championship teams. By contrast, we haven't played well at any time this year. We play two games good, two bad. If you try to find a positive, we haven't hit our stride and we're still in the race.

"I mean, it's nothing that a 10-game streak wouldn't solve. The talent is here. We're not a perfect club, but who has a perfect club?

"We have enough talent to compete and win, but it's not just three or four guys, not the pitching or offense.

"It takes 25 guys, take 'em or leave 'em."

Angel shortstop Gary DiSarcina said rookie Jason Dickson has been a savior, that the Angels wouldn't be where they are without him, but they are where they are--alive and still reasonably well in the West, and DiSarcina said, "we know these interleague games count, that they're for real, but it's been like a break from the normal schedule. There's definitely been a different feeling.

"Now we get a chunk of games against division teams and we can't afford to lose ground because it's so hard to make up in the second half. It's like you're racing against time in the second half."

From interleague to intradivision. The races are on for the Dodgers and Angels.

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