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An Old Style Race Down to the Wire

September 16, 1997|MIKE DOWNEY

A confessed strangler and San Francisco Giant fan--a bad combination, in my book--named Richard T. Cooper went to California's gas chamber in 1960 in a grumpy mood, unhappy about the team changing managers. He said at the time, "I didn't think Bill Rigney knew very much, but I don't think Tom Sheehan knows anything at all."

Sheehan managed the rest of the season, then never again.

People care about the Giants. (Not my people.) People care about the Dodgers. (Guilty as charged.) People enjoy seeing what happens when the two of them mix.

With 13 days to go, we have ourselves the best race in baseball . . . no, make that the only race in baseball: Los Angeles vs. San Francisco, for the heavyweight championship of West Coast baseball. Winner goes to the playoffs. Loser reports next for 1998 spring training. Let's get ready to rumble.

After the Dodgers' game tonight in St. Louis, all of their remaining games will be played against teams from their division, the National League West. Their first stop: San Francisco, for two games at The Park Formerly Known as Candlestick.

The first one will be televised Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. by the Invisible Channel, Fox Sports West 2.

The second is a nooner on Channel 5, which is taking a huge gamble, preempting Sally Jessy Raphael this way.

(Her topic Wednesday is: "Imprisoned Mothers.")

For most of this season, the Giants and Dodgers have been giant-stepping and dodging each other at the top of the NL West standings. They dart in and out of first place like NASCAR drivers, looking for openings. Giants pull away. Dodgers make up ground. Giants make a pit stop for extra pitching. Dodgers pass them with a few laps to go. Dodgers pull up for a quick change of center fielder and second baseman. Giants make a move and pass the Dodgers again, thumbing their noses.

Can the Giants hang on?

It depends. They do have Barry Bonds. They have Glenallen Hill, who makes a fine right fielder and a lovely wine. They have Jose Vizcaino at shortstop, which is better than having Jose Offerman at shortstop. If they need any more help, they can always call Chicago and ask for Jerry Reinsdorf, who would probably trade them Frank Thomas and Albert Belle for a cup of cappuccino.

Can the Dodgers dig in?

It depends. They do have Mike Piazza. They have Chan Ho Park and Hideo Nomo, who have an entire continent watching their every move, and I don't mean North America. They will have Zeile, Worrell and Hollandsworth, for games at 3-Todd Park. If they need any more help, then can always call Denver and ask for Don Baylor, who would probably decline their offer of Piazza for pitcher Pedro Astacio.

In short, anything can happen and probably will.

Nothing short of a Florida Marlin mega-flop will enable both the Dodgers and Giants to make the playoffs. Whichever team wins the NL West will go to Miami to begin the playoffs. I know how much the Dodgers are looking forward to throwing cups of water at the fish-faced Florida team mascot, Billy Marlin.

Tonight in St. Louis, they will take their last look at Mark McGwire, before he attempts to turn into Roger Maris*.

McGwire took 51 home runs into Monday night's game, some of which he might have hit for the Angels, had they listened to the wisdom of one of California's truly underrated sportswriters. (No guts, no glory.) McGwire could mash more taters than anyone in 162 games has since Maris*, or at least match the 60 homers of Babe "I Don't Need No Stinking Asterisk" Ruth.

From there, on to San Francisco.

We will find out a lot about the Dodgers in that series, including whether Nomo and Worrell have saved their best stuff for the stretch, whether Eric Karros will ever keel over from playing virtually every inning and whether any Giant who screws up will be branded by San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown as "a disgrace to humankind."

Then comes a three-game weekend series against Colorado. I can think of three distinct advantages the Dodgers should have: (1) Being at home; (2) All it takes to outscore the Rockies is at least 15 runs; and (3) Colorado Manager Don Baylor, having called Piazza a "one-dimensional" player, can sit back and watch Piazza hit several baseballs into the next dimension.

Should be fun.

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