- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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"It's much bigger than the Academy Awards," says Marshall. "I got mine for a home run—or else I might have been Potato Headless."
On Friday in Montreal, Baker, 34, spotted Mr. Potato Head standing—or sitting, it's hard to tell with Tater Tête—in a corner of the trainer's room. The Dodgers had just lost two in a row, so Baker decided to give Mr. Potato Head a pep talk. He picked him up and said, "Who stuck you in the corner? I want you out there tonight doing your job, not sitting around. We've got to get you going again." Baker took Mr. Potato Head out into the clubhouse and placed him on the ice chest next to the locker of Jerry Reuss, that night's starting pitcher. Reuss then pitched a five-hitter as the Dodgers beat the Expos 4-1 to increase their lead to 2½ games.
Baker explained his outlandish behavior thusly: "We may be grown men, but this is a children's game." And the Dodgers are, after all, the original Boys of Summer.
After the victory Welch said, "It was Jerry Reuss who won for us tonight, not Mr. Potato Head. But then, you never know."
Welch did his part Saturday night, taking a shutout into the seventh as the Dodgers won 4-0. The veterans who vote for MPH had a tough time choosing from among Welch; Tom Niedenfuer, who earned his 10th save; Landreaux, who drove in two runs; and Rafael Landestoy, who hit an insurance homer in the ninth. The winner was Welch, who was serenaded with the Mr. Potato Head song while he was attached to the muscle stimulator in the trainer's room.
"The spirit of this team is like day and night from what it was three weeks ago," says Beckwith. That dumb little plastic potato has become the Dodgers' late-season rallying point.
On Aug. 11, the night after the big meeting, the Dodgers beat the Reds 4-3, and Niedenfuer won the game and the first Mr. Potato Head. The Dodgers had beaten the worst team in the division by one run and still trailed the Braves by 6½ games, but the mood aboard the charter flight to Atlanta that night was so loose that one might have thought the Dodgers had won the pennant. Says Baker, "Timing is everything. In hitting, pitching, fielding—and in calling meetings. The timing was right. That's the day we became a team."
There were some other significant developments the next week. The Braves lost Third Baseman Bob Horner with a broken wrist, and that suddenly made them seem vincible. Few Dodgers will admit that Horner's injury made a difference in their thinking, but it has to have helped. Lasorda, when asked if he would be in first place if Horner were healthy, said, "If a bullfrog had wings, he wouldn't bump his ass on a log every time he jumped."
Then the Dodgers traded Pitcher Dave Stewart to the Rangers for Honeycutt, whom they promptly signed to a five-year, $3.75 million contract. The effect of these events was threefold. First, though Stewart was one of L.A.'s most popular players, the trade convinced the Dodgers that the front office was trying to win the pennant as much as they were. Second, the move lit a fire under Reuss, who was looking for the same sort of contract that Honeycutt got but had lost seven straight games, dating to May 31, in part because of a sore elbow. Since the trade, Reuss has completed and won all three of his starts and allowed only four earned runs in 28 innings. Third, they got Honeycutt.
At 14-8 with a 2.42 ERA, Honeycutt had been a strong candidate for the American League Cy Young Award. "I'd much rather be on a pennant contender than try to win an individual award." he says. In his first two starts Honeycutt beat the Phillies twice, pitching 16 innings and giving up just one run and only four fly balls. He's the second coming of Tommy John, only younger and with a slightly better curveball. On Thursday in Montreal he got the Expos to hit into eight groundouts in four innings, but the defense succumbed, committing a three-run error after Honeycutt was chased, making him an 8-3 loser.