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Dodgers Hit Right Notes in 4-3 Win

Baseball: Musical prelude inspires L.A. as Nomo, Worrell and Piazza lead team to victory over Houston and back into a tie for first.

September 15, 1997|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HOUSTON — There was music and dancing in the Dodger clubhouse at the Astrodome on Sunday, Brett Butler swaying to the sounds of Rick James and his teammates joining in.

And that was before the game.

Tired of losing, of scoreboard watching, of analyzing and preparing and plotting and sweating over a five-game losing streak that had dropped them out of first place in the National League West, the Dodgers decided to turn down the opportunity to take batting practice and turn up the music.

"You have to try something different," catcher Mike Piazza said.

It worked.

The Dodgers won for only the fourth time in their last 12 games by defeating the Houston Astros, 4-3, in 10 innings in front of a crowd of 32,666. In salvaging the final game of the three-game series, they moved back into a first-place tie with the San Francisco Giants and avoided going an entire season without a victory in Houston for the first time.

Of course, a few other factors might have been involved in the breakthrough victory. Such as:

* Starter Hideo Nomo breaking out of a slump by pitching seven strong innings and striking out 11 while walking only two.

* Much-maligned Todd Worrell picking up his 35th save.

* Piazza continuing to present his case to NL MVP voters by driving in two runs on two hits, including the game-winner.

Nomo made it plain from the start that he knew how to end his recent struggles, in which he had surrendered 10 earned runs in his last 9 1/3 innings.

For the first time since he pitched a no-hitter at the end of last season in Colorado, Nomo worked from the stretch throughout the game.

"Last time out I was so wild," Nomo said through an interpreter. "I was concerned because of my mechanics. My balance is better this way."

He certainly kept the Astros off-balance, holding them to three hits, only one of which hurt him.

With one out in the first and Derek Bell aboard on a single, Jeff Bagwell smashed a Nomo pitch into the second deck in left field for his 39th home run, tying both his career high and the Houston record.

The two RBIs give Bagwell, who also figures to be an MVP candidate should the NL Central-leading Astros win their division, a career high 122 RBIs.

It was an ominous moment for the Dodgers, considering that Nomo, in his last outing, gave up three home runs in the first three innings in losing to the Florida Marlins.

But Sunday, Nomo settled down and the Dodgers finally rose.

It all starts for the Dodgers at the top of the lineup, and that's where it started Sunday.

Eric Young and Otis Nixon had been on base only five times in the previous four games.

Manager Bill Russell tried to shake things up by switching the two, Nixon going to leadoff and Young to second. It wasn't a big switch, but Russell can't afford to sit either of them with two weeks remaining in the regular season.

Nixon opened the fourth inning by using his favorite weapon, the bunt, dragging one along the first-base line that rolled and rolled and rolled, never more than a couple of inches off the line but never turning foul. Bagwell watched helplessly as the ball stopped just short of the bag in fair territory.

Had the Dodger fortunes also turned for the better?

It certainly seemed so as Young was hit by a pitch, Piazza singled home one run and the tying run came in on a double-play ball hit by Eric Karros.

The Dodger went ahead in the eighth after Nixon and Young singled and Piazza walked, the single breaking a zero-for-20 streak for Young.

Karros drew a walk off reliever Russ Springer to send in the go-ahead run, but Astro pinch-hitter Tony Eusebio tied the score again in the bottom of the eighth with an RBI single off reliever Scott Radinsky.

Again in the 10th, Piazza saw his favorite sight as he came to the plate, Nixon and Young both on the basepath, this time via walks. Piazza singled past shortstop Ricky Gutierrez to put the Dodgers back in the win column.

And when Worrell finally closed it, the music started up again in the Dodger clubhouse.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

NL WEST

STRETCH DRIVE

*--*

TEAM W L GB DODGERS 82 67 - GIANTS 82 67 -

*--*

* Sunday: Dodgers 4, Astros 3 (10); Marlins 5, Giants 4

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