Dodgers' season looks to be over

The Cincinnati Enquirer

LOS ANGELES - This ought to constitute cruel and unusual punishment. The Los Angeles Dodgers must cross the country to be put out of their misery.

They must journey to Atlanta, then fight both jet lag and the Braves, the most daunting double-play combination in baseball. They must then win three in a row from the defending world champions, or come back to the West Coast conquered.

This is one of those times when a ballplayer might prefer to send a proxy. Who wants to make a 6,000-mile round trip just for a shot at avoiding a sweep?

The Dodgers moved to within one game of elimination Thursday night with a second one-run loss in the best-of-five Division Series. This time, the Braves beat them 3-2 thanks to three home runs and the pitching might of Greg Maddux. LA managed only three baserunners, and might not have scored at all were it not for a pair of Atlanta outfield errors.

Futility is a Dodger with a bat in his hands. Dating back to last weekend's sweep by the San Diego Padres, Bill Russell's club has scored one earned run in its last 36 innings.

''I'm a positive person,'' said Wayne Kirby, the Dodgers center fielder. ''I always think positive. Something positive has got to happen. . . . On the flight, we'll be real close to Jesus up there. Maybe he'll make us relax.''

Bad time for a slump

Rallies have been so rare for the Dodgers recently that their fans came to their feet for a full count with two outs and none on in the bottom of the eighth inning. Billy Ashley subsequently struck out against Greg McMichael. Maddux and his relievers retired the last 16 hitters they faced.

''We are in a little rut and we need to get out of it,'' said rookie Todd Hollandsworth, putting it mildly. ''There's been some hard-hit balls. We haven't been playing very well, but we could have won both of these games if the ball goes a different way.''

LA starter Ismael Valdes took a 2-1 lead to the top of the seventh inning Thursday - thanks largely to the largesse of Marquis Grissom and Ryan Klesko - but Fred McGriff tied the game with a leadoff homer and Jermaine Dye untied it with a one-out shot into the left-field stands.

Dye, recalled from Richmond when David Justice suffered his season-ending shoulder injury in May, has filled in brilliantly. The Braves seem to produce outstanding outfield prospects the way Henry Ford made Model-Ts.

They win, however, with peerless pitching. Maddux, the four-time Cy Young award winner, threw only 14 balls in seven innings. He may have been slightly sharper than was 24-game winner John Smoltz in Game 1, but the difference between them was hardly worth debating.

''Pitching has been dominant,'' said Dodgers manager Bill Russell. ''Being a hitter myself, it's tough to hit a ball that rides there on the (outside) corner. Both Maddux and Smoltz can hit (that spot) most of the time. That's why they are consistently successful.''

About Game 3 . . .

Next up: Tom Glavine, baseball's winningest pitcher over the last six seasons. What a lovely thought for a long flight.

''I can't bring this day back,'' Kirby said Thursday. ''We've got to look ahead and get ready for Glavine. We've got to load up some ammunition and go into Atlanta and use it. We've got to come out punching.''

Glavine, for his part, was gracious.

''You can't help but look at the Dodgers lineup in the middle - Mike Piazza, Eric Karros and Raul Mondesi,'' Glavine said. ''That middle of the lineup is one of the best the league has to offer. As a pitcher, you try to keep the guys at the top of the batting order off the bases so those guys (in the middle) won't be able to cause a lot of damage.''

So far, the Braves have been keeping both the big guys and the little guys off the bases. The Dodgers have eight hits in 19 innings.

''If anyone feels like it's over, they shouldn't get on the plane to Atlanta,'' said Eric Karros, the first baseman.

Karros said this with defiance. He puts up a pretty good front.

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.

Published Oct. 4, 1996.