Dodgers Smothered Under 19-Hit Attack

If the Dodger 3-4-5 hitters were 0-for-11 and their Cardinal counterparts were 2-for-11, you would be expecting a story about a pitching duel. Well, that's not exactly how it worked out. Brad Penny had trouble with his stuff, his location and his fielders, giving up 12 hits and six runs before leaving in the fifth. In turn, LA was 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

On the anniversary of Sandy Koufax's no-hitter against the Giants in 1963, the two clubs collected 28 hits.

The game changed on the pivotal fifth inning. Each club was banging out hits in a spectacular manner with the Dodgers collecting seven and St. Louis 9 entering the top of the inning locked in a 3-3 tie. When Cesar Izturis and Hee-Seop Choi each opened with their third hit of the game, it looked like the Dodgers might be ready to pull away.

Not so.

J. D. Drew took a called third strike, Jeff Kent struck out swinging and Milton Bradley bounced to second to end the inning. From that point the Dodgers were a passive 0-for-15.

St. Louis took heart upon escaping from that mess and scored three with two out in the bottom of the inning -- their first seven runs came with two out -- but it was the way they scored that was really painful.

After Penny had recorded a strikeout and a ground ball out, former Dodger Mark Grudzielanek, who had three hits, scored three times and was on base in four different innings, singled. The Cards light-hitting catcher walked and Penny grooved an 0-2 fastball to the St. Louis pitcher and he showed his appreciation by singling to center to break the tie.

Another single made it 5-3 and with runners on second and third, Olmedo Saenz, playing third this night, grabbed a surprise bunt by slugger Larry Walker and, having to play at first, tagged the runner coming down from second -- but not before the third run of the inning scored.

From that point on, the Dodger offense seemed to fold like a Kleenex suit in a driving rain and the Cardinals sailed in with the win, scoring once on Steve Schmoll in the seventh and the nightmare continues for D.J. Houlton who allowed three hits and two runs in the eighth, boosting his ERA to nearly eight.

Houlton is a Rule V draft, meaning the Dodgers must keep him on the roster all season or offer him back to the club from which he was drafted. They like his looks and are attempting to hold on to the young pitcher and perhaps send him to AAA next year for tuning up.

Dodger fans watching the game were disappointed with first baseman Choi's play, allowing no less than four balls to skitter under his glove and on out into right field. Pitching coach Jim Colburn spoke heatedly to Choi in the dugout after the second "hit", apparently pointing out he should get in front of the ball instead of reaching for it.

The "hits" he allowed would have made a major difference in Penny's pitch count, which broke into triple figures for the first time this season. Of the 100 he threw, only 63 were strikes.

Tony Jackson, reporting in the Los Angeles Daily News noted, "One night after playing the hero with a game-winning, three-run homer, Hee-Seop Choi continued to sizzle at the plate, going 3 for 4 with a double to raise his average to a once-unthinkable .302. It is impossible to definitively say whether the four Cardinals hits that scooted under his glove at first base or whizzed past him by no more than a foot could have been turned into outs if Choi's reaction time were quicker. The simple fact it can be called into question points to a disturbing lack of mobility."

But Penny pointed out that the loss was far from Choi's fault and coach Glenn Hoffman said, "He (Choi) just has to get ready a little earlier when the ball gets into his zone. He's a big guy, so he has to get a little lower. He has been taking a lot of grounders and putting in a good effort. If he gets his feet moving a little bit more, that will help."

The basic tenant of fielding as outlined in Moneyball by Michael Lewis, quotes now Dodger General Manager Paul DePodesta on the subject of a players' fielding ability on a team's performance: "The variance between the best and worst fielders on the outcome of the game is a lot smaller than the variance between the best hitters and the worst hitters."

Choi may be covering the spread with his bat. After opening the season 1-for-15, has racheted up his batting to the current .302 average, going 17-for-39 with five homers and 14 RBI in the last 11 games.

Dodger Blue Notes--Taking the Cardinals history of speed and scoring, it is a surprise to note that the Dodgers came into the game first in the league in runs scored and stolen bases with St. Louis second in both departments. The Dodgers have not been in the top five in runs scored since 1991. … Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Choi the tallest (6-5) No. 2 hitter in Dodger history? … Izturis finished the game with a .331 average after his 17th multi-hit game of the season. … Oscar Robles, just up from the Mexican League, seemed to get a rookie's welcome when he pinch-hit for Penny in the sixth. He took a ball that seemed obviously inside and was rung up by the plate umpire. … Closer Eric Gagne might be activated as soon as Friday if he decides to drop his appeal of a two-game, league-imposed suspension for sitting in the dugout while he was disabled. Gagne fired another shutout inning for Las Vegas last night, striking out his fifth AAA hitter of six faced. If activated, He wouldn't be available to pitch again until probably Sunday and could thus serve the suspension Friday and Saturday. … Infielder Norihiro Nakamura, designated for assignment by the Dodgers to make room for Robles, notified management that he would accept an outright assignment to Triple-A Las Vegas if he clears waivers. Nakamura, a Japanese home-run champ and multiple Gold Glove winner, was hitting .128 with no home runs when he was removed from the roster. At the time, Nakamura said he needed to speak with his agent and family before making a decision. It could be assumed Nakamura will not be claimed off waivers because of his struggling offensive performance against Major League pitching and his $550,000 salary.

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