The plot has thickened in the National League West and, apparently, so has the air at Coors Field. How else do you explain the improbable no-hit performance of Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Hideo Nomo late Tuesday night?
Nomo and the Dodgers were a mile high after their 9-0 victory over the Dodgers made history and created a little -- very little -- breathing room in the tight division race with the San Diego Padres.
The title likely will go to the team that plays the best in seven head-to-head meetings over the final 10 days of the season, but every inch that the Dodgers can stretch their slim lead in Colorado will be critical to their chances of reaching the World Series.
The Dodgers and Padres have a chance to be in the playoffs under the wild-card format, but if the NL wild-card team comes out of the West, it will play the Atlanta Braves in the divisional series. The West winner likely will draw the St. Louis Cardinals. Who would you rather play?
Of course, all bets are off if the Montreal Expos end up in the wild-card spot. Then the West winner would play the Expos and the Braves would play the winner of the Central race.
The Dodgers might be tough to stop. Nomo's no-hitter, the first by an Asian national in major-league history, was their 27th victory in 36 games and continued a late-season surge that has all but cemented interim manager Bill Russell's chances of returning next year.
Nomo already was a national hero in his native Japan, but the no-hitter only will add to his legend. The game was played at midday Tokyo time, allowing fans to watch the exciting ending by satellite broadcast.
But Japanese baseball fans might not realize just how impressive an achievement it was. Coors Field is the most hitter-friendly ballpark in the major leagues, so much so that a shutout is considered a major statistical anomaly.
The no-hitter was the first one pitched there and -- said the Dodgers' Eric Karros -- maybe the last.
"He probably doesn't realize how unbelievable that accomplishment is," Karros said. "People in Japan probably don't know Coors Field, but I'm betting it won't be done again."
The Indians doused each other in champagne after Tuesday night's title-clinching victory over the Chicago White Sox, but manager Mike Hargrove conceded that the celebration was less raucous than the one last year.
"The thing that made it so special last year was that it had been 41 years of frustration," Hargrove said. "There's elation again, but we're a little more subdued because guys realize that it's the first step. If you don't focus, you're going to go home early, and we don't want to go home early."
No place like 'dome
The Houston Astros appeared to be on their way to the NL Central title, or at least a strong wild-card bid, until they forgot how to win on the road in September. They were playing .500 ball outside the Astrodome until crunch time, but dropped to 0-9 on the road in September with yesterday's loss in Atlanta. And the clock is just about to run out.
The first-place Texas Rangers made critical errors in each of the first two games of their series against the relentless Seattle Mariners, leading Rangers starting pitcher Ken Hill to concede that the club is "a little tight right now."
Everybody knows that, especially the Mariners, who have little to lose after falling nine games out of first place a week ago and then rallying to make the four-game series at the Kingdome meaningful.
"All the pressure is in that clubhouse," said Mariners starter Terry Mulholland.
The morning line
Odds against: Orioles winning wild-card race, 2-3; Orioles winning AL East title, 6-1; Mariners winning AL West, 7-1; Mariners winning wild-card race, 5-1; White Sox winning wild-card race, 7-1; Expos winning NL East, 20-1; Dodgers and Padres ending up in a one-game playoff on Sept. 30, 6-1; Bob Dole winning presidential race, 8-1; Bob Dole winning wild-card race, 6-1; Joe Torre being named Manager of the Year and then getting fired in the off-season, 2-1.
Pub Date: 9/19/96