LOS ANGELES -- It's going to be a long winter for the Los Angeles Dodgers, barring some kind of miracle this weekend in Ohio. They are one loss away from elimination in their best-of-five National League divisional series with the Cincinnati Reds, and they had no one to blame but themselves for a 5-4 defeat last night.
If, for instance, shortstop Chad Fonville had not made a critical error in the fourth inning, they might be even after two games at Dodger Stadium.
And if Mike Piazza had been able to throw out Mariano Duncan on a pitchout in the eighth, the Reds might not have scored the go-ahead run before a non-sellout crowd of 46,051.
And if the Dodgers had gotten one big hit with the score tied in the late innings -- rather than leaving the bases loaded in the sixth and seventh innings and stranding a total of nine potential go-ahead runners -- Japanese pitching sensation Hideo Nomo might have been in a position to put them a game up tomorrow.
Instead, MVP candidate Barry Larkin lofted a two-out single into right field off Dodgers reliever Antonio Osuna to bring home Duncan with the tie-breaking run in the eighth inning and the Reds scored two more in the ninth to complete a sweep of the road portion of the first playoff tier. Left-hander David Wells can wrap it up at Riverfront with a strong performance in Game 3.
Dodgers first baseman Eric Karros got two back with his second home run of the night in the bottom of the ninth inning, but it only made the loss that much harder to swallow.
"Heck, we didn't deserve to win that game," said Karros, who drove in all four Dodgers runs with two homers and a double. "We had a lot of guys on base. We made a lot of mistakes defensively. It was just one of those things."
They made a lot of mistakes, period. Right fielder Raul Mondesi even got himself thrown out of the game at a pivotal juncture for arguing balls and strikes, and they weren't even his own balls and strikes.
The Reds must be living right. They got just three hits off Dodgers starter Ismael Valdes in seven innings -- the Dodgers had 11 over the same span -- and still were able to take a step closer to a now-likely showdown with the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series. The Braves also took two on the road and can wrap up their divisional series in Atlanta tomorrow.
"This was a great win for us," said Reds manager Davey Johnson. "It seemed like we were in jams all night, but we won the ballgame. Going home up two games to none, there is nothing like it."
Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda could not have asked for anything more than he got from Valdes, his 22-year-old starter who dominated the Reds for seven innings and gave the club a chance to get back in the series. He was not charged with an earned run, but the Dodgers failed to convert on several promising opportunities to get him his first career postseason victory.
Valdez retired the first 11 batters he faced and might have carried a shutout into the late innings if not for a two-out error by Fonville in the fourth that would cost the Dodgers two runs.
Fonville scooped up a ground ball by Ron Gant that should have kept Valdes perfect into the fifth, but double-pumped and then bounced the throw past first baseman Karros for an error. Moments later, Valdes compounded it with a mistake of his own, giving up a shot to Reggie Sanders that cleared the fence in straightaway center to give the Reds the lead.
The Dodgers got to Reds starter John Smiley a lot quicker. Leadoff man Brett Butler opened the bottom of the first with a line single to right and moved up on a perfect sacrifice bunt by Fonville. Karros followed one out later with a double down the left field line that staked Valdes to a slim lead.
Fonville more than made up for his fourth-inning throwing error. He had an outstanding night at the plate, following up his sacrifice bunt with four straight hits, but that only made a nightmarish performance by Piazza look that much worse. The Dodgers' all-everything catcher went 0-for-5 with seven runners on base and could not do anything about the Reds' late-inning running game.
"All we can do now is go out and play," said Butler, who combined with Fonville for seven hits at the top of the order. "It's a shame that Ismael couldn't win. He pitched a great game, but if you make mistakes, you're not going to win."