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Brown Gives Dodgers Perspiration, Inspiration

August 17, 2002|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — With 21 of the Dodgers' 34 games after the All-Star break decided by two runs or fewer, it became apparent to Manager Jim Tracy that his plan to ease right-hander Kevin Brown back into form by pitching him in low-stress situations would be virtually impossible.

So Tracy threw Brown right into the fire Friday night, almost literally--85-degree temperatures and high humidity turned Shea Stadium into an inferno of sorts--and the results were mixed. Brown labored through a 36-pitch seventh inning, giving up the go-ahead run on Timo Perez's RBI single, but Marquis Grissom hit a two-run homer in the top of the eighth, and Brown blanked the New York Mets in the bottom of the eighth to key a 3-2 Dodger victory before 35,089.

Brown's first career victory in relief extended the Dodgers' win streak to three and moved them two games ahead of San Francisco in the National League wild-card race. The Mets have lost six in a row and nine straight in Shea, their longest home skid since 1979.

"It's nice to get my feet wet, but it would have been nice if it was a little easier," said Brown, who underwent surgery for a herniated disk in his lower back June 11 and hadn't pitched since May 26. "I missed the strike zone too much. I hope it gets better."

Brown, who walked four and struck out one, escaped the seventh when Mo Vaughn grounded to first with the bases loaded. His fastball was in the 91-to 93-mph range, "but his ball was moving almost too much," catcher Paul Lo Duca said. "He made maybe 10 pitches in the seventh that were just off the plate. For him to be healthy and have good stuff is a great sign for us."

The Dodgers rallied in the eighth when Mark Grudzielanek, batting leadoff for the first time this season, doubled off left-hander Mark Guthrie and Grissom, who in his last 12 games is batting .410 (16 for 39) with four homers and 12 runs batted in, slammed Guthrie's first pitch far over the wall in left for his 14th homer of the season.

Tracy hoped to avoid using closer Eric Gagne for a fourth consecutive night, but his low pitch count--36 pitches the previous three nights--and the tight score outweighed a need for rest.

Tracy went to Gagne, only the second time this season he has pitched four days in a row, and Gagne responded with a crisp, one-two-three inning that included two strikeouts and resulted in his 42nd save, within two of Todd Worrell's franchise record.

"It was a calculated decision, knowing how many pitches he made the previous three days," Tracy said. "But you know what? His stuff [Friday] was better than it was the last three days."

Starter Hideo Nomo's stuff wasn't bad, either. He gave up one run and four hits in six innings in an 84-pitch performance that so drained him that he needed intravenous fluids afterward.

Nomo's only blemish was Ty Wigginton's homer in the second. The Dodgers tied it in the fourth when Grissom and Shawn Green walked, Lo Duca singled to left and Grissom scored on left fielder Roger Cedeno's fielding error.

New York's lineup looked more like Met Lite. Catcher Mike Piazza (tendinitis in left wrist), second baseman Roberto Alomar (sore feet), third baseman Edgardo Alfonzo (strained rib-cage muscle) and right fielder Jeromy Burnitz (benched) were out, and Tony Tarasco hit cleanup for the first time in his career.

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