The Los Angeles Dodgers left the visitors' clubhouse at Riverfront Stadium on Sunday in the same fashion in which they had arrived last Friday: in first place, yes, and with all sorts of garish women's earrings dangling from their left lobes. Rookie rightfielder Raul Mondesi, for example, happily complemented his olive designer suit with a gold-fringed number accentuated by a green faux gemstone. The Dodgers do have one player who's really into drag, though centerfielder Brett Butler did not attempt to drop one of his masterly bunts all weekend.
While winning two of three games from the Cincinnati Reds, the Dodgers allowed themselves some fun at the expense of the Reds and their laughable owner, Marge Schott. On May 18, in a speech to the Ohio County Treasurers Association, Schott had said, "Only fruits wear earrings." She later added, "I was raised to believe that men wearing earrings are fruity." That prompted the Dodgers to report for Friday's pregame stretching routine wearing $150 worth of accessories Butler had sprung for.
Then, with great glee, the Dodgers proceeded to ruin Cincinnati's weekend celebration of fruits and veggies. Pregame ceremonies last Friday and on Sunday saluted, respectively, the Waynesville Sauerkraut Festival and the Troy Strawberry Festival. In between, on Saturday night, Red manager Davey Johnson had a lemon of a game. He filled out his official lineup card in the wrong order, which caused his team to be snagged by L.A. for batting out of turn.
No wonder the Dodgers left town bejeweled. They look good. A 6-4 win last Saturday and a 10-3 laugher on Sunday gave them a 3½-game lead in the National League West—a margin that matched the Atlanta Braves' lead in the East as the biggest in baseball. Los Angeles rose to such heights with a 12-3 run that easily might have been a 15-game winning streak. Its bullpen was responsible for all three losses in that stretch, and all came in the ninth inning.
"We're really having some fun," pitcher Ramon Martinez said last week. "Everyone is together and very happy. It's a lot different than last year. The way we're playing, I think we have a good chance of going all the way to the finals."
Of course, the last round of baseball's new NBA-style postseason tournament is still known as the World Series. That the Dodgers might reasonably be thinking of participating in it, whatever its name, is one of the surprises of the early season. After all, Los Angeles lost 180 games over the past two seasons—the most for the Dodgers in a two-year span since 1912—while scoring the fewest runs in the league in '92 and the third fewest in '93. Then, on the eve of this season's opener, L.A. lost its cleanup hitter when Darryl Strawberry checked into a substance-abuse rehab center.
It turns out the Dodgers have been better off without Strawberry and the constant uncertainties about his troublesome back and behavior. By week's end Los Angeles was not just hitting (.285) and scoring runs (5.5 a game) at a league-leading pace, but it also was doing so at rates that would set records for the franchise since its move to L.A. in 1958. No wonder the Dodgers have shown no interest in bringing back Strawberry, who is now home in Southern California out of shape, out of sight and out of mind. That was never more evident than in the recent response of Los Angeles manager Tommy Lasorda to a caller on a cable-TV show who referred to Strawberry as a dog.
"You're wrong," Lasorda said. "Darryl Strawberry is not a dog. A dog is loyal and runs hard after balls."
L.A. fans are evidently delighted to carry on without him too. When Henry Rodriguez took Strawberry's spot in leftfield on Opening Day in Dodger Stadium, the crowd saluted him with a rousing ovation and chants of "Hen-ry! Hen-ry!" No matter that Rodriguez was a .220 hitter over parts of two seasons in the majors. What mattered most was this: He was not Strawberry.
Rodriguez, 26, has kept the fans cheering with a .352 average through Sunday, the best mark among baseball's best-hitting outfield. That designation was supposed to belong to the Dodgers' Opening Day outfield of last year, not this year's. At the outset of the 1993 season Butler was flanked by Strawberry and Eric Davis, boyhood buddies whose L.A. homecoming turned out to be a bust. (Davis was traded to the Detroit Tigers last August.) Now Butler is ably surrounded by the Dominican duo of Mondesi and Rodriguez. No set of outfielders has cranked out more hits. At week's end Butler, Mondesi and Rodriguez had combined to hit .345, with all three of them listed among the top nine hitters in the league. In the blowout on Sunday they pounded out two singles, three doubles, a triple, a home run and five RBIs.