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Osteen is a grand old warrior who is having another typically fine season. He has started 16 winning games and his record of 13-5 is the second best of any lefthander in the majors. Osteen appeared in this year's All-Star Game as the second pitcher for the National League, and the first batter he faced was 21-year-old Buddy Bell of the Cleveland Indians. "It was an odd feeling," said Osteen. "Back when I was with the Cincinnati Reds Gus Bell used to bring his son around and we kidded him about becoming a big-league player. He must have been nine, about the same age my son David is now. When I looked in at Bell I thought to myself, 'Have you been playing baseball for a living this long?' Buddy tripled off me with no one out, and while I am not in the business of giving up triples, I was happy for him. I was also happy that I left him on third base."
At 34, Osteen is not one of those pitchers who can throw a baseball through a car wash without it getting wet. He relies on his knowledge of the hitters and the ability to pitch to spots. Three times during a recent 11-day period Osteen produced typical examples of his craftsmanship. In front of a Monday crowd of 50,000 at Dodger Stadium he threw a four-hitter and beat the Giants. A couple of days later he was struck with a virus and could not eat for 72 hours. Somehow he finally forced some bacon and eggs into his system and worked eight strong innings at Candlestick Park. Last Thursday night he threw a shutout against the Mets. In the three games Osteen pitched 26 innings. He struck out only 10 men but he also walked only two and gave up just 13 hits. Fifty of his outs came on ground balls.
When Osteen, John or Downing—the low-ball pitchers—are working, Russell can be seen advising Third Baseman Cey and Second Baseman Lopes, gesturing them into position or calling over to them with his glove raised to one side of his mouth. "There are a lot of things about this job most people seldom think about," he says. "When the pitcher is behind the hitter 2-0 or 3-1, will the batter try to pull the next pitch? How much can I cheat into the hole when there is a man on?"
The education of the young Dodgers is doubly interesting since all but one of them began as outfielders. They played together on winning teams in the minors and at one time or another 13 of the 25 men on the club were exposed to the teaching of Tom Lasorda, currently a Dodger coach. Lasorda produced five pennants and a second-place finish in seven years of managing in the minors. His dedication to his task so inspired Walter O'Malley that the chairman of the board bought him a headstone that says TOM LASORDA, A DODGER. Lasorda maintains that space will be left on the headstone for a schedule, "Just in case somebody is walking through the cemetery and doesn't know if the Dodgers are home or on the road."
Young players, of course, make mistakes, and recently the Dodgers have made all sorts of them. In Houston two of them ended up on third base one night and three of them were thrown out at either home or third in the first two innings the next night. "Things like that can drive you crazy," says Alston, "but I'd rather have them doing things aggressively than playing safety-first ball."
Lopes is the new leadoff man and an excellent second baseman who can steal bases (30 so far this season) and hit (.278) but must learn to walk and bunt more before he can be mentioned in the same breath with Wills. Cey is indeed a good third baseman and Steve Garvey, the 5'10" first baseman, is among the top batters (.316). The four men in Alston's platoon outfield—Davis, Manny Mota, Willie Crawford and Bill Buckner—all have good averages.
Through a good part of this season the Dodgers' big trade, in which Frank Robinson, Bill Grabarkewitz, Bobby Valentine and Pitchers Bill Singer and Mike Strahler were sent to the Angels for Ken McMullen and Andy Messersmith, had been criticized. Lately that has subsided. Messersmith has pitched brilliantly since the All-Star break and his 42-13 second-half record during his seasons with California is a positive omen. The addition of Messersmith to a staff that already boasted Don Sutton (14-7 and a 2.26 ERA) and the three low-ballers makes the Dodgers' strong suit—pitching—even stronger, but the advancement of the youngsters in the infield is the aspect of this team that has the baseball world abuzz. Whether the Little Blue Bicycle may ultimately be run over by the Big Red Machine is a matter of debate. The Dodger kids believe they can win. It is just that kind of faith that put them where they are now.