The Dodgers, who treated the newly renamed Pete Rose Way like a freeway to a division title over the weekend, found out Sunday afternoon that it can be a two-way street in a 10-6 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.
And what had been another carefree ride--Fernando Valenzuela was rolling along with a 6-1 lead--turned into a head-on collision when Valenzuela made a wrong turn while seemingly en route to his 18th win of the season.
The Reds, who had already absorbed two one-sided beatings from the Dodgers, made like their famous ancestors--the Big Red Machine--in the sixth inning, sending a dozen men to the plate and scoring nine runs on six hits and an error by Dodger third baseman Bill Madlock.
Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda didn’t remove Valenzuela from harm’s way until after Bo Diaz had singled home the tying run with the Reds’ fifth hit of the inning off the Dodger left-hander, who also walked two batters in the inning.
Lasorda wheeled out Carlos Diaz, but the Reds treated him like a tank would a moped. Ron Oester smacked Diaz’s first pitch for a tie-breaking single, and one batter later, Gary Redus delivered a three-run home run.
That assured the Reds of a split of the four-game series, and left them with the faint hope that their journey to Los Angeles for the final weekend of the season will offer more than some October rays. The Dodgers, who have 20 games left, hold an 8 1/2-game lead over the Reds, the same advantage they had when they first pulled into town.
“It looks almost impossible,” said Reds’ slugger Dave Parker, a nonfactor in this series until Sunday, when he doubled in one run and singled in another off Valenzuela.
“They (the Dodgers) are playing good ball, and winning even without (Pedro) Guerrero. We’ve got to hope for some help from our friends.”
The Dodgers have been their own worst enemies, blowing three substantial leads--5-0, 4-1 and 6-1--on an otherwise successful trip that continues tonight with the first of two games in San Diego. They hadn’t given up nine runs in an inning since May 3, when they were blown out by Pittsburgh, 16-2, while doing their best imitation of a team headed nowhere fast.
That’s the direction they were still pointed the last time they were in San Diego, a fact that was duly noted by Steve Garvey, speaking from the vantage point of the Padres’ six-game lead at the time.
The Dodgers found their ex-teammate’s comments to be something less than diplomatic. Subsequent events have pronounced a harsher verdict--since the Padres took two out of three from the Dodgers and went six games in front on June 27, the Dodgers have played 23 games over .500 (47-24) while the Padres have gone 14 under (28-42) on a headlong plunge toward fourth place.
“That’s why I tell my players, ‘Don’t spit up in the air, because it comes down and hits you,’ ” Lasorda said.
Earlier this season, Lasorda said he used Garvey’s remarks as motivational fodder during a team meeting. By Sunday, though, his memory had dimmed.
“I may have slipped when I said that,” Lasorda said with a grin. “I don’t really want to discuss it.”
Bill Russell said he didn’t recall Lasorda’s attempt to incite the Dodgers by directing their ire at Garvey. Nonetheless, Russell added, “When you say stuff, it always comes back to haunt you, no matter what.
“When you belittle a club, it ends up hurting you. Joe Morgan used to do it in Cincinnati. When they were awesome in 1975 and 1976, he was always popping off. Then we won it the next two years.
“Our club’s never done that. We’ve never said anything bad about another club.”
Like Lasorda, Russell wasn’t about to point any fingers at Garvey. But when asked to explain why the Padres careened onto a path drastically different than the one that had taken them to a division title last season, he said:
“Everything has to go right for you (to win a division). You have to get all the breaks. They didn’t have any injuries last season, for one. This year, their pitching hasn’t held up, and last year they had good pitching.
“Their big guys aren’t having the big RBI years they had last year. Ours didn’t have them last year because they were hurt.
“And you have to have a lot of luck. That means a lot right there. By luck, I mean no serious injuries, getting the big home run in the latter innings, taking advantage of the other team’s mistakes, getting complete games from your pitchers when your bullpen needs the rest, things like that. We’ve been getting the breaks.”
Sunday, the Dodgers broke fast against Reds pitcher Tom Browning, a left-hander who had won seven straight decisions, given up just 12 earned runs in his last eight starts, and is a shoo-in to be selected the league’s outstanding rookie pitcher.
The Dodgers scored three runs in the second with hits just out of the reach of Reds’ fielders. Candy Maldonado sliced an opposite-field triple to drive in one run, and RBI singles by Valenzuela and Ken Landreaux brought home two more.
In the fifth, Bill Madlock’s ground-rule double made it 5-1, and Mike Scioscia’s squeeze bunt added another run.
Last season, that was a month’s worth of runs for Valenzuela, the primary reason he was a 17-game loser in 1984. But after striking out five while setting down the first nine Reds he faced, Senor Stopper unaccountably became Senor Sieve.
He walked pinch-hitter Wade Rowdon to open the sixth, and one out later, third baseman Madlock misplayed Buddy Bell’s roller. Parker, who had doubled home a run in the fourth, muscled a single to left for one run, Tony Perez walked to load the bases, and Nick Esasky cleared the fence on one bounce for a ground-rule double that made it 6-4.
A single by Dave Concepcion and it was 6-5, another by Diaz and the score was tied. By then, even Lasorda was convinced that Valenzuela didn’t have it.
Lately, of course, the Dodger bullpen has been no bargain, either, but Lasorda said that had nothing to do with it.
“I felt Fernando could still get hitters out, and that’s why he was still out there,” Lasorda said.
With Valenzuela scheduled to have three starts left and perhaps a fourth, his chances of becoming a 20-game winner for the first time in his career suffered a serious setback Sunday.
“I felt bad enough that we didn’t win the game for the team,” Valenzuela said. “I wasn’t doing anything different, they just started to hit me.
“Next time, huh?”
Mike Marshall, the Dodgers’ biggest run-producer in the last week with six home runs and 20 RBIs, came out of the game in the fifth inning with what was decribed as a slight strain of the right groin muscle. Marshall said he expected to be able to play tonight. . . . Pedro Guerrero’s splint is scheduled to come off his left wrist today. Guerrero threw batting practice again Sunday and told Manager Tom Lasorda, “I’m ready to go (pitch) a couple of innings if you need me.” . . . For the second straight game, Mariano Duncan reached base four times. He had a double, two singles and a walk on Sunday. He’s hitting .252 after dropping to .237 a week ago Sunday. . . . Against the rest of the league, Dave Parker of the Reds was batting .313 (154 for 492) with a league-leading 101 RBIs and 27 home runs. In 15 games against the Dodgers this season, Parker is batting .246 (15 for 61) with no home runs and four RBIs, two on Sunday. Parker had three singles in the first three games of the weekend series.