YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


San Francisco Players Make a Clean Race of It

September 21, 1997|BILL PLASCHKE

SAN DIEGO — Daryl Hamilton couldn't take it. Kirk Rueter couldn't take it.

Saturday afternoon beneath Qualcomm Stadium, the two San Francisco Giants were no different than right-thinking baseball fans everywhere.

They thought the Dodgers were about to move back into a first-place tie with them in the National League West.

They thought it impossible that the Dodgers would not score at least once with bases loaded and one out in the ninth inning against the Rockies.

"I thought, 'I can't take this,' " Hamilton said.

So he jumped into the clubhouse shower. Stuck his head under the nozzle, turned it on full blast.

Looked across the tile floor to see Rueter doing the same thing.

While teammates were gathered around a nearby TV, they were hiding in hot water.

"We both wanted it to get real noisy in there so we couldn't hear what happened next," he said.

What happened next, El Nino couldn't silence.

Turn it over! Turn it over! There! There! cried teammates.

Lockers banged. Joyous curses flew. There were backslaps, stomps, the loud pop as Rod Beck opened another beer.

Hamilton and Rueter knew Eddie Murray had grounded into a double play without ever seeing it.

"We high-fived right there in the shower," Hamilton said.

Seven games remaining, and this is what this championship race has become.

The Giants win even when they're all wet.

The Giants lose by 10 runs, but celebrate like champions.

The Giants play only break-even baseball since the All-Star break, but are comforted by a truth that has been around since Kirk Gibson was last seen in a Dodger uniform:

They are in a race with a team that has the killer instincts of a Tickle Me Elmo.

The Giants are beginning to feel as though, even when they lose, they cannot lose.

It happened again Saturday, when the Giants' 12-2 defeat to the Padres--"It was like we didn't even show up" Stan Javier said--moved them one day closer to a championship.

"I saw a Dodger fan in the stands today, and he was holding a sign," Hamilton said. "It said, 'Not Too Proud To Beg.' "

He shook his head and chuckled.

"I know how that guy feels," he said. "We'll take it any way we can get it."

They've been getting it this way all year, this team that could go into the playoffs with only a .500 record since the All-Star break.

The Giants shouldn't be within 10 games of first place, much less one game beyond it.

Before Saturday, the Dodgers were batting nine full points better than the Giants.

They had 78 more hits.

They had stolen 14 more bases.

Their staff earned-run averages was nearly one full point lower.

They had yielded 170 fewer hits.

They had committed 11 fewer errors.

Then, holding that one-game lead and with their pitching ace on the mound against a fourth-place Padre club, the Giants are blown out in the first 30 minutes.

Second batter Bill Mueller singles, but is picked off first base when he dives around it. Barry Bonds strikes out looking to end the inning.

The Padres come to the plate, and don't depart until they have scored four runs, one on a botched grounder by Mueller, three others on a home run by Greg Vaughn, he of a recent three-for-40 slump.

One inning later, by the time the score was 6-0, the Giants were certain the Dodgers would see this on the scoreboard up north and take advantage.

"Even though nothing had happened up there yet, I thought this meant the Dodgers would win and we would be tied," Javier said.

Silly him.

Probably the only Giant who always has believed the Dodgers could be tamed is bench coach Ron Perranoski, a former Dodger pitching coach who managed the Giants for an inning Saturday while ailing Dusty Baker was in the hospital.

Perranoski never said exactly that, but he did say this when asked whether he had been an interim manager before:

"Up in Los Angeles, I was sometimes interim manager with Bill Russell and Joey Amalfitano . . . and that was when Tommy [Lasorda] was still on the bench," he said with a laugh. "Of course, you ask him, those were his losses."

A good shot, and perhaps the first of many to come from a team that suddenly believes it really is charmed.

"No matter what happens, this has been a magical season," Hamilton said.

Beck put it another way.

When asked whether he was relieved the Dodgers lost, he chose the moment to slowly pour his beer over a lit cigarette, squelching the flame, drowning the ashes.

"Nobody really cared," he said, keeping a perfectly straight face after one heck of a Saturday afternoon joke.

Los Angeles Times Articles