SAN FRANCISCO — Kevin Elster left baseball last season and focused on himself, needing time to recharge after injuries and politics ended his fun.
Elster relaxed by the pool at his Las Vegas home while his passion for the game returned, and the Dodgers offered him a job.
They're glad he accepted.
The shortstop and No. 8 batter had a show-stopping performance Tuesday during a 6-5 victory over the San Francisco Giants--hitting three home runs that ruined the Dodger rivals' first regular-season game at Pacific Bell Park.
Elster hit a solo shot in the third against San Francisco starter Kirk Rueter (0-1)--the first official homer at the ballpark.
He added a two-run blast in the fifth against Rueter, then capped his improbable display with another solo homer in the eighth off reliever Felix Rodriguez. Elster hit the first homer to center, the second to left and the last to left-center.
The first three-homer game of Elster's career--and the Dodgers' first since 1996--demoralized a festive afternoon sellout crowd of 40,930 at the Giants' new $319-million home. It wasn't what anyone expected--especially Elster.
"It's just the fruits of hard labor," said Elster, 35, who followed an intense exercise program after deciding to resume his career in January.
"When I decided to come back and play, I wasn't going to go into it unless I felt I could contribute, and a day like today makes me feel like I am. No one ever comes to the ballpark thinking they're going to hit three home runs, least of all me, but it sure feels good to do this on a day like today."
Said San Francisco Manager Dusty Baker: "We got the ball in the wrong area to him, and he didn't miss any of them. He had a lot of home runs for one day, that's for sure."
It was a good day for other Dodgers too.
Chan Ho Park (2-0) worked six solid innings and earned his second victory in as many starts. The right-hander, who gave up three runs, challenged batters and impressed Manager Davey Johnson with his calm approach.
Even Barry Bonds didn't fluster Park. The all-star left fielder had a run-scoring double in the first and a solo homer in the third, but Park stayed cool.
"Kevin Elster gave me a lot of confidence," Park said. "All those home runs made it easy to pitch."
The bullpen, though, made things interesting. Setup man Terry Adams gave up a solo homer to Doug Mirabelli in the seventh, cutting the lead to 5-4.
Closer Jeff Shaw gave up a ninth-inning leadoff homer to J.T. Snow, , exciting the crowd. But Shaw retired the next three Giants after the homer for his second save, and the bench helped too.
Geronimo Berroa contributed two hits, one a key run-scoring single in the seventh, while playing for first baseman Eric Karros, who sat out because of lower back pain. Berroa struggled defensively, committing a fifth-inning error, in only his 10th start at first.
But the Dodgers didn't sign Berroa for his glove--or Elster either.
Johnson helped coax Elster, his former starting shortstop with the New York Mets, out of retirement because of his bat. Elster had said he was spent mentally and physically after overcoming numerous injuries, and frustrated by how personnel decisions are sometimes made.
He had already made a successful return with the Texas Rangers in '96, being selected the American League comeback player of the year. Johnson believed Elster had something left, and after Tuesday, who could argue?
"I thought this was a good situation for him," Johnson said.
"Everyone talked about we'd be losing defense [with Elster starting], and I love defense, but you need someone who can swing the bat in the eight hole. This is going to open a lot of eyes around this league. Teams are going to see they can't pitch around our Nos. 6 and 7 hitters to get to our eight hole."
Elster, who could be a bargain at $300,000 this season, definitely opened eyes Tuesday.
Mike Piazza hit three homers on June 29, 1996, against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Of course, that was Mike Piazza.
But Kevin Elster?
"You can't just throw anything up there against him because he's a good fastball hitter," said left fielder Gary Sheffield, playing despite a sprained right ankle.
"He came through big for us, and now we [the middle of the order] feel like we don't have to do it all the time. We know we have help down there."
That's the plan.
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THREE'S A CHARM
Three-homer games in L.A. Dodger history:
April 21, 1959
vs. San Francisco*
May 11, 1974 at San Diego
Aug. 20, 1974 at Chicago
April 17, 1994 at Pittsburgh
June 29, 1996 at Colorado
April 11, 2000
at San Francisco