Earlier this season, most of the Los Angeles Dodgers would have had trouble picking up a $10 bill without letting it slip through their fingers -- to say nothing of a screaming ground ball with a couple of bad hops in its personality. Dodger fielding still doesn't come with any guarantees. Recently the club made five errors in one game. But ever since Pedro Guerrero was moved from third base to the outfield on June 1, the Dodgers have been on a tear.
Offensively, Guerrero acted like a guy who had just been let out of prison, setting a National League record for home runs in June with 15. Then first baseman Greg Brock, who has been trying for more than two years to get some numbers on the board that would rival those of the departed Steve Garvey, also got hot.
Since then second baseman Steve Sax has joined the growing list of Dodgers including outfielder Ken Landreau and catcher Mike Scioscia, who have raised their batting averages anywhere from 20 to 30 points. Recently on a night when it looked as though the Dodgers would lose to San Francisco 1-0, Candy Maldonado, who had come into the game batting .197 and is not known for his power, hit a home run that led to yet another victory.
To Manager Tommy Lasorda, whose mouth opens and closes more times a day than all the refrigerator doors in L.A., the team's spurt past San Diego and into first place in the NL West was not all that surprising.
``There was never anything wrong with our pitching,'' Lasorda said, ``and once we got our infield set we were bound to take off. I've never seen anybody have a month like Guerrero had -- and once Pedro started hitting, everybody else on this team did too.''
The set infield Lasorda was referring to has Brock at first base (against all kinds of pitching); Sax at second; rookie Mariano Duncan at short; and Enos Cabell (a late acquisition from Houston) at third. However, Tommy varies occasionally by switching Cabell to the outfield, leaving third base to either Dave Anderson or Bob Bailor).
As for pitching, Lasorda has three of the league's most consistent starters in Fernando Valenzuela (12 wins including 5 shutouts), Orel Hershiser (11-3 with two one-hitters already this year), and veteran Bob Welch (low ERA).
While the bullpen seems to stop abruptly after Tom Niedenfuer and Ken Howell, the team hasn't lost more than three games in a row, nor is that apt to change.
St. Louis Manager Whitey Herzog takes exception to those fans who say the Cardinals can only win in Busch Stadium, where Herzog's speedsters are supposed to enjoy a wide edge because they perform on artificial turf. ``While it's true we play well at home, we're also built to win on the road,'' Herzog explained. ``No team can afford to be one-dimensional, and that ought to be obvious to everyone. If you look at us defensively, we've got a lot of people who can catch the ball and throw it straight.
``Of course I like speed because the opposition can't defend against it without weakening itself somewhere else,'' Whitey continued. ``But you can't win without balance either. Anyway, no matter what kind of a surface you play on, the key is always pitching. Sometimes, when we discuss possible pennant winners, I don't understand why we talk about anything else.''
Dwight Gooden of the New York Mets, who may just have the most powerful arm in baseball, has already struck out the side 25 times in his career -- and he won't be 21 until November. This year's National League Cy Young Award race will probably come down to Gooden and the Cardinals' Joaquin Andujar, though there's still scattered support for the Dodgers' Fernando Valenzuela. The reason the San Diego Padres haven't been winning is that they haven't been hitting. For example, between June 28 and July 28, the normally reliable Steve Garvey drove in just eight runs. And during one stretch of about a week, outfielder Kevin McReynolds went through a 2-for-26 slump at bat. Toss in a few errors and that's all it takes to make baseball's Skid Row.
Detroit Manager Sparky Anderson says his defending world champions have been depending too much on the home run this season instead of spraying the ball around. Consequently, all those one- and two-run victories that the club piled up a year ago now seem to be going to the opposition. To give his club more RBI consistency, Anderson has moved shortstop Alan Trammell into the No. 3 spot in his batting order.
From third base coach Rocky Bridges on San Francisco rookie shortstop Jose Gonzalez, who has changed his last name since the season opened to Uribe: ``Jose was truly the player to be named later!''