Luck starting to turn in favor of Phils' Dykstra

May 03, 1993|By Frank Dolson | Frank Dolson,Philadelphia Inquirer

LOS ANGELES -- He headed west hitting .189, with one hit in his last 25 at-bats, wondering when his luck was going to change. Five games, 23 at-bats, 10 hits and seven runs later, Lenny Dykstra is on his way to reaffirming his status as the best leadoff man in the National League, if not in all of baseball.

"You didn't think he was going to hit .220 all year, did you?" Philadelphia Phillies manager Jim Fregosi said yesterday after Dykstra produced his first three-hit game of the year, boosting his average from .228 to .247.

"I've hit the ball on the nose all year long," Dykstra said.

Yes, and that's been the frustrating part of it. There's no telling what Dykstra would be hitting on this road trip if not for some atrociously bad luck in San Diego.

There was that rocket he launched toward left center in the ninth inning of the first game there with a runner on third. Darrell Sherman, in center for the Padres, ran and ran and speared it with a final lunge.

"I should've had four hits tonight," Dykstra muttered after going 2-for-5 in that game. "I should be hitting .330 right now. I got to get all those back."

Next day there was the drive Lenny sent soaring to deepest center field with a runner on second. This time it was Derek Bell in pursuit, turning his back to the plate, sprinting toward the fence . . . and hauling it in on the warning track.

That was the one that had Dykstra talking to himself, wondering what he had done to deserve such treatment. He was steaming into second when Bell made the catch, and Dykstra stopped, and stared, and then he yanked off his batting helmet, held it aloft with both hands and hurled it as far, and as hard, as he could.

The fact that there were runners in scoring position on those two blasts to center field added to Dykstra's frustration. If there's one thing he likes to do even better than starting a Phillies rally -- as he did in both the first and third innings yesterday -- it's coming up with men on base and delivering in the clutch.

"That's the situation I like to be in," he said. "That's the situation I've excelled in in the past."

Yet when he came to the plate for the second time in the Phillies' six-run third inning yesterday, Dykstra's RBI total for the season was stuck at three. On three solo home runs.

With runners in scoring position he was 0-for-18.

"That was the most frustrating thing of all actually," he readily admitted. "I led the team last year with guys in scoring position [.368]. I led the team in '90 with guys in scoring position [.427]."

And now here he was, four weeks into the season and trailing the world at .000.

The RBI single Dykstra got off Dodgers lefty Steve Wilson was of minimal importance in the game, merely turning a 7-0 rout into an 8-0 rout on the way to a 9-1 victory. But the way Lenny went charging down the line to first base on his bouncer to the right side, you'd have thought the pennant was riding on that play.

First baseman Eric Karros broke to his right on Dykstra's grounder, then headed back to first when he realized that second baseman Jody Reed was going to reach it. It was a bang-bang play at first, about as close to a dead-heat as you can get. Dykstra got the call. And the hit. And the precious RBI.

Finally, on his 19th opportunity, in the Phillies' 24th game, he had knocked in a teammate with a base hit.

"My last six times with guys on I hit the ball right on the button," he said. "Can't do nothin' about it. Worst thing, a lot of times players, when they don't get the hits, have a tendency to try to do something different, and then you turn a little problem into a big problem."

As frustrated as he was, and as much as he let that frustration show in San Diego, Dykstra didn't panic at the plate. That's what experience does for a man.

"I've played this game long enough to know that you stick with the game plan, have the same approach every day," he said. "That's what the game's all about -- consistency."

And it's about scoring runs, which Dykstra did even when the hits weren't falling.

"That's my job," he said. "That's the name of the game. That's the way you win."

Happily for Dykstra, while he was hitting all those at-'em balls, the Phillies were winning.

"We really haven't needed me in that situation yet," he said.

But they will. And history assures us that Dykstra will drive in big runs for this team before it's over.

When Dykstra gets started, he's a human hitting machine. This hot road trip is just the beginning.

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