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BILL PLASCHKE

Dodgers Rev Up After Kick-Start

Park took out his frustration in a dangerous way against Belcher after giving up his fourth grand slam of the season.

June 06, 1999|BILL PLASCHKE

The fight, of course, was not between Chan Ho Park and Tim Belcher.

Although the two pitchers did a pretty good imitation of a ninja video game along the first base line Saturday--slap! jump! kick!--it was not about that.

The fight, of course, was between Chan Ho Park and himself.

And so it will remain, until the Dodgers or their curiously falling star or somebody--they haven't fired the new pitching coach yet, have they?--figures it out.

"This year, there have been a lot of things that are hard to understand," Park said.

Nothing more than him, and at no time more than during Saturday afternoon's 7-4 Dodger victory over the Angels.

One moment, Park was awash in frustration after grooving a 2-and-0 grand slam fastball to Matt Walbeck.

The next moment, he was taking it out on . . . the other team's pitcher?

Park's first mistake was disappointing. His second was embarrassing.

His teammates rushed the field to help him, and Manager Davey Johnson argued with umpires to not eject him, and afterward everyone publicly supported his spirit.

But don't be fooled.

You do those things because you need a player, not because you necessarily approve of his behavior.

Most would agree that a starting pitcher picking a fight over a supposedly hard tag is silly.

And that doing it in the fifth inning with nobody warming up in your bullpen is really silly.

And that leaving your feet during that fight--increasing the possibility that someone could get dangerously spiked--is unconscionable.

The Angels certainly know it.

"The last time I saw someone kick somebody in a fight, it was my little sister kicking my brother for taking her Barbie doll," said injured shortstop Gary DiSarcina, who had a good view from the bench. "Is this the new Dodger blue? Karate kick blue?"

Harsh words, but the Dodgers are going to have to take them.

Instead of spitting back today in the finale of this three-game series, they need to hold their tongues and look inside.

To the locker holding jersey No. 61.

To the player standing there with the same live arm and easy smile as when he began this season with a 10-4 record in his last 18 starts of last year.

While everything with Park seems the same, much has changed.

He still throws hard--he was clocked at 97 mph in his last appearance.

But he has yet to last longer than seven innings, and has given up at least four earned runs in nearly half of his starts.

He can still fool people--he has recorded nearly three times as many strikeouts as walks.

But in bases-loaded situations, he only fools himself, giving up a major league-record-tying four grand slams with two-thirds of the season remaining.

Throwing a fastball across the plate to Walbeck on Saturday on a 2-and-0 pitch was only his latest mistake.

"He doesn't need to give in like that," Johnson said. "He gets behind and says, 'OK, I'm going to throw it right down the middle.'

"He still needs to make the pitch. He can take a lesson from Jim Palmer, who would rather walk a guy with bases loaded then give in to him. I'd rather Chan Ho just walk him."

Park is also still the same nice guy who has developed a circle of friends that cuts across lines of culture and race.

He showed this again late Saturday afternoon, when a guy with a KNBC Channel 4 microphone amazingly begged him to recount Belcher's curse that supposedly helped start the fight.

"It's a bad word," Park said, refusing to repeat it for television.

If only he had been so cool earlier.

As with everything involving Park lately, the fight was sudden, surprising, and under the heading of, "Are you kidding me?"

Sure, earlier in the game, Park had lost three pitches behind Randy Velarde's head. But after each one, he had kicked the mound in remorse, and there was little indication the Angels were angry.

So when Belcher seemingly tagged Park normally in the chest while holding the ball in his bare right hand after Park's bunt in the fifth, who would have thought anything was wrong?

Well, Park, apparently.

"He pushed the ball in my chest," Park said. "That's not normal. It feels like he was trying to hurt me."

Park then pushed off Belcher with his elbow and said, "What's up?"

While Belcher would not comment on the fight, Park said Belcher then cursed him and told him to go back to his dugout.

"Why did he say that to me?" Park said. "I didn't do anything wrong. I was just running out a bunt. I was shocked and hurt."

And then he was flailing and flying. Park hit Belcher in the face with his left forearm, then tried a flying kick before falling to the ground at the bottom of a quickly growing pile.

"He charged me," Park said. "I just had to protect myself."

The replay showed no evidence of anything like that. As longtime Dodger fans know, if fiery Tim Belcher want to "charge" somebody, he wouldn't do it by simply tagging a ball off their chest.

The guess here is, the Dodgers saw what everyone saw, a nice young man suddenly overcome by recent imperfections in his nice young career.

Hopefully they also see a player who may be distracted by suspended long-term contract negotiations earlier this year, worried about his first touch with mortality, still trying to grow up.

There was no winner in the fight between Chan Ho Park and Tim Belcher.

The Dodger hopes may depend on them jumping in and ending this fight between Chan Ho Park and himself.

*

Bill Plaschke can be reached at his e-mail address: bill.plaschke@latimes.com.

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