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Park Puts Dodgers in Drive

Baseball: Park gets complete game, and Zeile and Karros provide the power in 6-2 win over Padres.

September 24, 1997|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

That sound clearly distinguishable above the roar of the crowd of 45,711 at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night, above the sizzle of Chan Ho Park's pitches, above the crack of the bats of Todd Zeile and Eric Karros, was the sound of a pulse.

The Dodgers' pulse.

Yes, with five games to go, despite a miserable September, a horrendous losing streak and the scorn of all but their most faithful fans, there's still life left in the Dodgers. They defeated the San Diego Padres, 6-2, to move within 1 1/2 games of the National League West-leading San Francisco Giants, 7-6 losers to the Colorado Rockies.

"Obviously we're back in it," Dodger Manager Bill Russell said. "We didn't think we were out. We can pick up two games just as fast as we lost them."

There's still life left in right-hander Park, who was skipped in the rotation earlier this month because he was threatening to double the number of innings he had previously pitched in a single season.

Park had plenty of energy Tuesday night, becoming the Dodgers' first 14-game winner at 14-8 by going the distance for only the second time this season. It was only the sixth time any Dodger has done so this year.

After having two losses and two no-decisions to show for his last four outings, Park was in command, giving up two runs and seven hits with five strikeouts and three walks.

There's still life left in Zeile, the third baseman who had said after the Dodgers' last game, their fifth consecutive defeat, 10th in their last 13 games and 12th in 18 September games, that "there was no reason to panic."

And he's right, if he and his teammates continue to play the way they did Tuesday night.

"However bleak the picture looks," Zeile said, "we still have a chance. We have five games left. Those are five games we have to win. . . . We've been playing like we're trying not to lose.

"A couple of guys got together before the game and decided that the key is to stay aggressive, to let it hang out, like you don't know if the next game will be the last."

Zeile cracked two home runs, his 28th of the year to left-center in the second inning and his 29th to right-center in the sixth. He also made a nice stab of a hot liner off the bat of Tony Gwynn in the third inning.

And there's also still life in the bat of Karros, who has suffered through a rough September, hitting only .227 going into Tuesday's game. He was homerless in 75 at-bats with only five RBIs.

Karros nearly equaled that RBI total in two at-bats Tuesday night.

After Mike Piazza hit a ground-rule double in the first inning, Karros lined a double to left to drive home the Dodger catcher.

Karros came up in the ninth with Piazza again aboard, this time via an infield single, and smashed his 29th home run to left field, ending a homerless drought that had reached 78 at-bats and giving him 99 RBIs for the season.

"The bottom line is, we have been losing games," Karros said, "whether it was because we were too passive or too aggressive."

Despite all the Dodger heroics, however, it was a tight game for much of the evening.

San Diego starter Paul Menhart (2-3), who entered the game with a 4.54 earned-run average and career numbers of 5-8 and 5.46, matched Park through the early innings.

John Flaherty's ninth home run, with a man on in the second inning, had given the Padres a 2-1 lead.

After Zeile's first homer tied the score, the Dodgers went ahead in the fifth when Darren Lewis singled, stole second, went to third on Flaherty's poor throw and scored on a single to right by Otis Nixon.

Zeile's second homer and Karros' blast gave Park a cushion.

And a chance to finish.

"This is probably the biggest game he's pitched so far," Russell said of Park. "They needed a lift like this. They needed the big-pitched game and he did it."

In the eighth, after Gwynn got his 218th hit of the season to tie a career high and with Ken Caminiti coming to the plate, Russell went out to talk to Park.

"When I thought I was going to come out, I got a little bit mad," Park said.

Russell doesn't usually talk on the mound. He sends his pitching coach, Dave Wallace, to do that. When Russell comes out, it's almost always with a hook.

But with a worn-out and beat-up bullpen behind him, one that has an ERA of 5.18 for the month, Russell kept his hook in his pocket and his faith in his starter, despite the fact that Park would wind up throwing 139 pitches, far more than the Dodgers normally permit.

Park got Caminiti on a fly ball to left.

In the ninth, Park gave up a leadoff single to Wally Joyner, then retired the next three Padres.

When shortstop Chris Gomez, the last batter, took a called third strike, the crowd, already on its feet, let out a huge cheer.

Yes, there's still a pulse.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

THE WEST / Stretch Drive

STANDINGS

*--*

TEAM W L GB GIANTS 87 71 -- DODGERS 85 72 1 1/2 ROCKIES 82 75 4 1/2

*--*

MAGIC NUMBER:

GIANTS

4

THE FINAL 9

Dodgers vs. Rockies: L, 6-4 SEPT. 19

Dodgers vs. Rockies: L, 2-1 SEPT. 20

Dodgers vs. Rockies: L, 10-5 SEPT. 21

OFF, SEPT. 22 Dodgers vs. Padres, W, 6-2 SEPT.23

Dodgers vs. Padres, SEPT. 24

Dodgers at Rockies, SEPT. 25

Dodgers at Rockies, SEPT. 26

Dodgers at Rockies, SEPT. 27

Dodgers at Rockies, SEPT. 28

THE FINAL 9

Giants at Padres: W, 7-4 SEPT. 19

Giants at Padres: L, 12-2 SEPT. 20

Giants at Padres: W, 8-5 SEPT. 21

Giants at Padres: W, 11-5 SEPT. 22

Giants at Rockies, L, 7-6 SEPT. 23

Giants at Rockies, SEPT. 24

OFF, SEPT. 25

Giants vs. Padres, SEPT. 26

Giants vs. Padres, SEPT. 27

Giants vs. Padres, SEPT. 28

COVERAGE

GOING DEEP

With their efforts Tuesday night, the Dodgers are closer to having four players with 30 homers. C10 DODGER REPORT: C10 GIANT BOX SCORE: C9

OTHER RACES

AL

David Justice keyed a dramatic comeback as Cleveland clinched its third consecutive Central title. C8 NL

The Florida Marlins, clinched their first postseason berth. C9

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