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On a Dodger team of aging heroes like 33-year-old Steve Garvey and young stars like 21-year-old Fernando Valenzuela, Pedro Guerrero, 26 and playing in his second season as a regular, has carved out a prominent niche all his own. At the end of last week, Los Angeles was clinging to a one-game lead in the National League West and Guerrero was a leading candidate for MVP.
Guerrero, who has displaced Garvey as the Dodgers' cleanup hitter, led the team in batting (.306), runs (86), homers (32), runs batted in (98), game-winning RBIs (18), slugging (.543), on-base percentage (.376) and, as always, selflessness. As a rookie in 1980, he substituted for ailing Davey Lopes at second and slumping Rudy Law in center and batted .322. Last season sore-armed Reggie Smith couldn't play rightfield, so Guerrero hit .300 in his stead and was a tri-MVP in the World Series. He started this year in rightfield, but when Ron Cey strained a thigh muscle on Sept. 5, Guerrero began shifting back and forth between the outfield and third base—often during the course of a game.
No matter. As the Dodgers took over the division lead with a seven-game mid-September winning streak, Guerrero had two game-winning hits, two homers and seven RBIs. He accomplished all this despite an increasingly swollen right hand he had jammed swinging at an inside pitch Sept. 10. In pain and in health, he's a good bet to become the 14th active player to produce a .300, 30-homer, 100-RBI season—and the first to accomplish the feat so early in his career. He has already become the first Dodger ever to hit 30 homers and steal 20 bases in one season.
Guerrero has played six different positions since arriving in L.A.: first (his favorite), second, third and the three outfield spots. "Why should switching bother me if I know how to play all those positions?" he says. "I just move from one to the other and pretend I started the game there."
"He makes great judgments," says Batting Coach Manny Mota. "He knows he can use the whole field and when to go for the long ball or base hit, and he remembers to cut down on his swing with two strikes."
Knowing Guerrero's fondness for low pitches, San Diego's Eric Show recently threw him a ridiculously low one—10 inches off the ground. Guerrero swung and missed. Show tried the same thing on his next delivery, got it up a bit and lost the game when Guerrero doubled home Ken Landreaux. "He's got holes you can throw to," says Show, "but they're getting smaller and smaller. It's amazing how much he's improved just over the last season."
"He's got great baseball intelligence," says Leftfielder Dusty Baker, Guerrero's best friend among the Dodgers. "I must be in the game," Guerrero adds, "because I once fell asleep on a plane and woke up swinging."
Guerrero's the rare ballplayer who will stand up and shake hands with someone he has been introduced to in the clubhouse. He happily answers to "Pedro" in Spanish and "Pete" in English. L.A. Manager Tom Lasorda considers him a quiet leader. Because he makes bilingual public-service broadcasts on behalf of every major cause from safety on the public buses to cardiopulmonary resuscitation, Dodger spokesmen call him "concerned." To the players, he's eminently kiddable because of his combination of absentmindedness and good humor.
Guerrero and his wife, Denise, a vivacious New Mexican of Spanish, Mexican, American Indian and Irish ancestry, share a car and a condo in a middle-class L.A. neighborhood 10 minutes from Dodger Stadium. "Which neighborhood?" he was asked. "Lafayette Park," said Guerrero. "No," said Utilityman Derrel Thomas in a tone of mock sternness. "That's the street. It's the Wilshire district. Remember that." Later Guerrero asked a reporter to send him a copy of a story but couldn't remember his own address. "I know the place but not the number," he said.
Denise has been a big help to Pedro—so much so that veteran Dodger Outfielder Rick Monday's wife, Terry, has called her "the perfect example of what a young player's wife should be." Guerrero shows his appreciation of Denise, whose main contribution to his success was to teach him patience, by wiggling a finger at her after each of his Dodger Stadium home runs. It's his way of saying, "That was for you, Baby."