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Park Earns Role as Ace in the Hole

Dodgers: With Brown on disabled list, right-hander will be first Asian-born pitcher to start major league opener.


When Pedro Guerrero's left knee turned to spaghetti on an ill-fated slide into third base in a 1986 spring training game at Vero Beach's Holman Stadium, it effectively ended the Dodgers' season before it began.

When Kevin Brown pulled up lame because of a strained right Achilles' tendon while backing up the same base on the same field March 23, the same sense of dread enveloped Dodger fans.

Guerrero missed most of the 1986 season.

But Brown has been placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to March 24, and his injury has shown enough improvement that club officials expect him to miss only his opening-day start and be back in the rotation for Sunday's game.

And while Brown's $105-million arm and presence will be missed today at Dodger Stadium against the Milwaukee Brewers for the 1 p.m. game, new Manager Jim Tracy is confident in having Chan Ho Park take the mound in Brown's place.

"When you look at our pitching staff, and you're going to get an opportunity to manage your first game in the major leagues," Tracy said, "and you're replacing a potential annual Cy Young Award winner with a guy that's on the verge of becoming a potential annual Cy Young award winner, that's not too bad of a contingency plan, in my opinion."

Park, 27, is coming off the most impressive stretch of his seven-year career.

* He finished the 2000 season with a 25-inning scoreless streak.

* In his final start, Park threw his first complete-game shutout, blanking the San Diego Padres, 3-0, on Sept. 29. He had 13 strikeouts and gave up two hits.

* Park established career-bests for wins (18), innings (226), earned-run average (3.27), strikeouts (217) and tied his career-high with 34 starts.

* In 26 of his 34 starts, Park held opponents to three earned runs or fewer.

* The .214 batting average hitters had against him in 2000 was the second lowest in the National League, behind Brown's .213.

* Park's 18 wins established a new major league high for an Asian-born pitcher.

Park went 10-4 with a 2.34 ERA in 17 home starts last season, which bodes well for Tracy in his first official game as Dodger manager.

Plus, in his lone appearance against the Brewers last year, Aug. 29 at Milwaukee, Park had a career-high 14 strikeouts, the most by a Dodger pitcher since Hideo Nomo had 17 on April 13, 1996.

Park, a native of Kong Ju City, South Korea, will be the first Asian-born pitcher to start on opening day in the major leagues.

Whenever Park pitches at home, Dodger Stadium takes on an international feel in the crowd as well as in the press box with a throng of Korean journalists recording his every move.

A South Korean flag was even waved in the Cashman Field stands Thursday night in Las Vegas by a student group from Nevada Las Vegas during Park's outing there.

For his part, Park is trying to remain centered.

"First of all," Park said after his limited Las Vegas engagement, "I feel bad because of Brownie's injury but I am excited for the opportunity."

Park, the Dodgers' No. 2 starter, was initially supposed to throw against the Arizona Diamondbacks Tuesday.

"It's an honor," Park said of today's start. "It's not a normal game. It's opening day. I'm just trying to stay focused."

Park will be pitching on shorter-than-usual rest after going four innings in Las Vegas in the exhibition win against the Diamondbacks. Park gave up two runs, one earned, on three hits while striking out four and walking one.

Park will be facing an up-and-coming Brewer club that finished 73-89 and in third place in the NL Central--22 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals--under first-year Manager Davey Lopes.

Milwaukee, though, had a league-low .246 batting average, despite a breakthrough season by outfielder Geoff Jenkins (.303, 34 home runs, 94 runs batted in), who starred at USC.

"Opening day is a very special thing, obviously," Tracy said. "But I really feel, with what we've accomplished over the course of these past six weeks [in spring training], that I'd like to see this club just continue."

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