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Nomo a Two-Way Player in Victory

Dodgers: He pitches eight scoreless innings and has run-scoring double off Johnson in 4-0 win over Diamondbacks.

July 02, 2002|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PHOENIX -- Dodger pitcher Hideo Nomo's fifth-inning swing against Arizona left-hander Randy Johnson Monday night was so ugly it had a better chance of cracking a mirror than a bat.

Nomo bailed out so much he needed a life preserver--his left foot, as Manager Jim Tracy joked, landed closer to third-base coach Glenn Hoffman than the catcher. He seemed to start his swing as the ball left Johnson's hand. Everything a hitter could do wrong, Nomo did. Yet, everything turned out right.

A .142 lifetime hitter with one hit in 25 previous at-bats this season, Nomo laced an RBI double over left fielder Luis Gonzalez's head to break a scoreless tie and push the Dodgers on their way to a 4-0 victory over the Diamondbacks before 36,632 in Bank One Ballpark.

Nomo also tossed one of his best games of the season, blanking Arizona on five hits in eight innings and striking out seven to move the first-place Dodgers 2 1/2 games ahead of the Diamondbacks in the National League West.

"I don't think [Dodger batting instructor] Jack Clark will be incorporating that swing with our hitters, and I would strongly suggest that he didn't," Tracy said of Nomo's rare hit. "But you know what? Strange things happen sometimes."

Another oddity Monday night: For the first time in 17 starts this season, Nomo, who ranks third in the NL with 57 walks, did not walk a batter. Nomo improved to 9-5 and hasn't lost since an 11-3 defeat at Florida on May 12. He is 7-0 with a 2.76 earned-run average in his last nine starts.

"When you face a guy like Randy Johnson, you need a step-up performance, and what a step up that was for Nomo to throw eight innings of shutout ball," Tracy said.

"When he's throwing strikes early in the count, the at-bat changes. They're immediately defending the split-fingered fastball."

Arizona put a scare into the Dodgers in the ninth when Junior Spivey singled off reliever Paul Quantrill and Gonzalez walked.

Tracy, taking no chances, summoned closer Eric Gagne, who struck out Greg Colbrunn with a 97-mph fastball and got Steve Finley to tap to the mound.

Damian Miller followed with a long fly ball to right-center field, but Brian Jordan leaped at the wall for the game-ending catch, making Gagne the fastest pitcher in major league history to reach 30 saves. Gagne accomplished the feat in 82 games, beating the 83-game mark shared by Bobby Thigpen (1990) of the White Sox and Lee Smith (1993) of the Cardinals.

"He's obviously the best closer in baseball," Tracy said. "Case closed."

The victory snapped Johnson's five-game win streak against the Dodgers, dating to July 24, 1999.

Johnson (12-3) was dominant through four innings, giving up two infield singles, before Adrian Beltre singled with one out in the fifth.

Jeff Reboulet popped to third for the second out, and Nomo, who struck out on a feeble swing in the third inning, worked the count full. If Nomo's RBI double against Colorado last Wednesday was, as he put it, "an accident," what happened next was a six-car freeway pileup.

Nomo tore into a Johnson fastball, lining it over Gonzalez's head to score Beltre from first and leave Johnson stunned and cursing on the mound.

Nomo had a similar reaction, except for the cursing.

"It was unbelievable," Nomo said through an interpreter. "I was shocked."

Cesar Izturis grounded a single up the middle, but Nomo looked so disoriented he held at second until the ball skipped by him. But on a night Nomo could do no wrong, Finley failed to field the ball cleanly in center, giving Nomo enough time to score for a 2-0 lead.

Paul Lo Duca doubled and scored on Marquis Grissom's two-out RBI single in the sixth, and after two errors put Hiram Bocachica on third in the seventh, Lo Duca hit a two-out RBI single to center for a 4-0 lead.

Nomo's only real trouble came in the fourth, when the Diamondbacks put runners on first and third with one out. Finley hit a high chopper up the middle, but second baseman Reboulet, making only his fourth start of the season, fielded the ball and quickly flipped to Izturis, whose strong relay to first completed the inning-ending double play.

"You need every guy on the club to win games, and Reboulet starting that double play was huge," Tracy said. "If that ball goes through, it could have changed the complexion of the game."

Like Nomo's hit did in the fifth.

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