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Park Is Finishing the Season in High Gear

Baseball: Dodger pitcher goes eight strong innings in 3-2 victory over Padres to improve to 14-9.

September 23, 1998|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Dodgers have endured many troubling situations this season, but none were more disturbing than what occurred at Arizona in May.

Chan Ho Park sat in his clubhouse stall in a fetal position after a horrible performance against the Diamondbacks, concerning club officials. Park wondered whether he would win again.

But those bad days are only a memory for Park, who continued his impressive turnaround in a 3-2 victory over the San Diego Padres on Tuesday night.

An announced Dodger Stadium crowd of 29,255 watched Park pitch eight sharp innings in improving to 14-9. With one scheduled start remaining, Park matched his career-high victory total established last season in his first year as a full-time starter.

Closer Jeff Shaw made things interesting in the ninth, giving up two hits to put runners on first and second with one out.

But Shaw got the final two outs against the National League West champions, nailing down the victory for Park and his 45th save. Rookie third baseman Adrian Beltre provided the offense by hitting a three-run home run in the fourth against Padre starter Joey Hamilton (13-13).

After doubting himself earlier in the season, Park has emerged as the Dodgers' most valuable player, Manager Glenn Hoffman said.

"He's been pitching great for a long time now, and we've really needed him with everything that's happened," Hoffman said. "And the even bigger thing is that he's taken the ball every fifth day no matter what's been going on around him. The guy hasn't missed a start.

"We had Ramon [Martinez] go down, we had Rocket [Ismael Valdes] go down for a while, but Chan Ho just keeps going out there. When you're talking about your MVP, that's the type of thing I'm thinking about."

Park was typically strong in his 33rd start, giving up six hits and two runs. Park walked only one and struck out six while throwing 107 pitches, 66 for strikes.

Beltre started at third because veteran Bobby Bonilla began his off-season rehabilitation program early. Beltre hit Hamilton's first pitch to him in the fourth over the center-field wall.

Hamilton pitched seven innings, giving up six hits--including Beltre's sixth homer--and three runs. He struck out five and walked four while throwing 100 pitches, 61 for strikes.

Hamilton was good--but Park was better.

"I felt really relaxed and comfortable," said Park, who lowered his earned-run average from 3.83 to 3.77. "My control felt very good, and it was easy for me to throw strikes."

That wasn't the case in May. Park went 2-3 in six starts during that month, hitting bottom in an 8-5 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on May 24.

He lasted only 2 1/3 innings in his shortest outing of the season. Park struggled with his command while giving up five runs.

Park appeared listless while speaking with reporters after the game, hanging his head throughout a bizarre session. He sounded like a washed-up veteran--not the rising star he is considered to be.

"That was very hard," Park said, reflecting on that day. "I didn't have my confidence, and I didn't know what to do.

"I couldn't make my pitches because of my back [stiffness], and I was worried. I thought, 'Oh, no, I can't keep pitching like this.' I didn't know if I could fix it."

It appears as though he has.

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