Two-homer finale puts fitting cap on Piazza's dream season


LOS ANGELES -- The Atlanta Braves fan sitting in the front row behind the San Francisco dugout bowed, in mock reverence to hapless Dave Burba, as the battered Giants relief pitcher left the game in the sixth inning.

Dodgers infielder Lenny Harris bowed, too, to teammate Mike Piazza as he returned to the dugout in the ninth inning.

No mocking there.

"We saw history," Harris said.

In his final at bat, in the final inning, in the final game of an extraordinary rookie year, Piazza hit his second home run of the game, his Los Angeles record 35th of the season, a three-run shot that intensified the Giants' agony.

The visitors needed a win to force a one-game playoff. What they got was their second-worst thrashing of 1993 -- 12-1.

What they got was a bases-empty home run by Piazza in the fifth inning before his three-run homer in the ninth. What they got was a six-hit complete game by Dodgers pitcher Kevin Gross, trying to make a case for the team to re-sign him.

"I just can't explain it. I can't put anything in perspective. It's just been a dream season," said Piazza, who will soon collect the National League Rookie of the Year award. "My next goal is to win a world championship. Hopefully, this won't look as big if we win a world championship."

It looks pretty big now. Piazza finished the season hitting .318 with 35 home runs and 112 runs batted in.

The only catcher in major-league history to do better in all three of those categories was Gabby Hartnett of the Chicago Cubs in 1930.

Piazza's home run total was the most by any Dodger since Duke Snider hit 40 in 1957. His batting average is the ninth-highest in Los Angeles Dodgers history.

If the fans in the sellout crowd of 54,340 weren't aware of the statistical minutiae, they knew they needed to send Piazza out in a special way. He received a standing ovation before he came to the plate in the ninth inning and most definitely noticed it.

"It was overwhelming," Piazza said. "After the first three games, it seemed like there were a lot of Giants fans drowning them out. But today, they were really intense."

And those three curtain calls?

"They kept shoving me out there," Piazza said of his teammates. "I was embarrassed."

The game wasn't yet an embarrassment for the Giants when Piazza stepped to the plate to lead off the fifth inning. The Dodgers led 3-1. On the first pitch thrown by Burba, who had just entered the game, Piazza sent a fastball into the right-field seats.

His homer in the ninth, to right-center, came during his first career plate appearance against Giants reliever Dave Righetti.

For the past month, Piazza has talked about the aches and pains that have accumulated from a season of catching in the big leagues. He switched to a lighter bat to compensate for fatigue.

Then why did four of the five games in which he had two home runs this season come after Aug. 29?

"I guess I should be tired more often," Piazza said. "All year I've been able to do little things to give me a kick start when the doldrums were hitting.

"At times when I wasn't hitting well, I just went back to basics. I tried to hit the ball up the middle. And even many of the home runs this year, I didn't try to hit the ball out of the ballpark."

Those lessons, he hopes, will stay with him.

"To me, that's going to be a key to my success in future years, to approach seasons the way I did this year," Piazza said. "I know the numbers this year are big. I can't say I'm going to go out and duplicate them. But I'm not going to sell myself short and make excuses if I don't."

While talking to reporters after the game, Piazza was taken away to make a presentation in a postgame ceremony for fan appreciation day. He was told to grab one of his jerseys. It would be given away as a prize. Giving away a jersey is not usually done lightly.

"Do I have to pay?" Piazza asked.

No, somebody answered, he didn't have to pay.

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