Dodger pitcher Orel Hershiser has heard the inquiries almost as often as Met pitcher Dwight Gooden this season, with most of them a variation of: "What's wrong with you?"
That's the price you pay for being young, well-heeled, and almost unbeatable the year before.
But Monday night, Hershiser came up with a million-dollar answer to a dime-a-dozen question. He threw a three-hitter at the San Francisco Giants, striking out 10, in a 2-1 Dodger win before a sellout crowd of 40,777 at Dodger Stadium.
Hershiser also singled off loser Mike LaCoss (9-6) in what proved to be the winning run in the fourth for the Dodgers, who started the night with just 22 players, because Ken Landreaux was awaiting knee surgery today and Steve Sax went to the hospital with sore ribs.
"But we still have Roy Hobbs, the greatest player that ever was," said Bill Madlock, gesturing at Bill Russell.
Russell never claimed to be a natural, but he upheld his reputation as a hustler with a play that may have saved Hershiser in the ninth.
Giant pinch-hitter Joel Youngblood hit a chopper to third that rookie Jeff Hamilton double-clutched, then threw over the head of first baseman Enos Cabell.
The ball caromed off the steel gate to the photographers' well next to the Giant dugout, and back toward the field, as Youngblood took a wide turn at first.
But Russell, filling in at second for Sax, quickly retrieved the ball and threw to Cabell, who dived and tagged out Youngblood before the Giant could dive back to the bag.
"I'm 6-foot-5 and it helped," Cabell said. "I saw (Youngblood), and I didn't know where the bag was, so I just caught the ball and dove back toward him."
Cabell wasn't surprised to see Russell where he was.
"Billy knows how to play," Cabell said. "The second baseman is supposed to back up on that play, but nowadays most of 'em don't."
Russell was making only his fifth start this season at second base.
"A lot of times, you take it for granted that (backing up) is a waste of time on that type of play," Russell said. "But there's always that one time.
"That particular play it was a slow-hit ball, so I had a chance to get there. The ball hit the right place on the gate, and came back far enough."
Youngblood said he thought the ball had gone into the photographers' well and bounced back out. Giant Manager Roger Craig came out of the dugout to argue the call.
"Ninety-nine times out of 100 that ball bounces out," Craig said. "They got a break, or it would have been a different game."
It almost became a different game when the next batter, former Dodger Candy Maldonado, just missed a home run, the ball curving just beyond the left-field foul pole at the last moment.
"It was way foul--by this much," Hershiser said, holding his hands about a foot apart.
That close call brought out catcher Mike Scioscia, who suggested that it might be prudent for Hershiser to throw a fastball instead of another curve like the one that Maldonado had just crushed.
"But I said, 'Let's throw another one, but lower, and hope he swings and misses,' " Hershiser said.
"Instead of trying to fool a guy when he's sitting on a pitch, I like to throw him the same pitch, but in a place he can't hit it."
That's just what happened. Maldonado struck out for the third time in the game, and Hershiser retired Chris Brown on a fly ball to end it.
Russell singled with two out in the third, took second on a walk to Madlock, and scored on a single by Franklin Stubbs, who broke an 0-for-15 string.
Hershiser's hit followed a two-out infield single by Reggie Williams and a throwing error by third baseman Brown.
"A humpbacked popup," Hershiser said of his hit. "It was nothing. I just got it out there. Hopefully, it would fall in, and it did."
Hershiser, 10-7 overall and 6-0 lifetime against the Giants, got the Dodgers off to a winning start on what they believe is a critical home stand against division rivals. The Dodgers remained 8 1/2 games behind the first-place Houston Astros but gained a game on the second-place Giants, who are 3 1/2 out.
"I found a fine line between trying and not trying too hard," Hershiser said, "and that mystical word called rhythm, which every athlete in a groove says he has.
"I've actually pitched poorly. I've deserved the losses that I've got. It's not like 19-3 (his record last season) is a tough act to follow. It was an outstanding year that would be hard to repeat.
"But I've pitched poorly. It's not like I've gone out and pitched like I did last year."
Monday, he came close. The Giants' only run came in the seventh on Brown's opposite-field drive to right field that Stubbs chased into a triple, and an infield out.
"He's getting close to the Orel of last year," Cabell said. "Last year, he never struggled."
He struggled in the sixth, walking the No. 8 and 9 hitters in the order, but Dan Gladden grounded into a double play after failing to bunt the runners over, and Rob Thompson struck out.
Dodger Notes The Dodgers went over the 2-million mark in attendance for the 14th straight season and the 22nd time in their history, the most of any major league club. . . . Dodger second baseman Steve Sax was taken to Centinela Hospital Medical Center for X-rays of his left rib cage, which were negative. Sax, who was struck in the ribs with a pitch by Pittsburgh's Rick Reuschel last Wednesday, felt discomfort in the area while taking a ground ball during batting practice. His status was listed as day-to-day. "It was painful, but I'm going to try to play tomorrow," said Sax, who was leading the Dodgers in hitting with a .325 average and was second in the league in hits with 123. . . . Mike Scioscia, who had two singles Monday, has 9 hits in his last 16 at-bats, bringing his average up to .298. . . . The Dodgers aren't the only team in the division with injury problems. The Giants have had nine players on the disabled list, seven of them pitchers. All-Star Mike Krukow, who was to have started tonight, is out with injuries suffered in last Tuesday's brawl with the Cardinals. His place will be taken by rookie Kelly Downs, who will be making his big-league debut. "Sounds like a race track to me," Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully cracked. "Going to Kelly Downs? Put a deuce on a horse for me." Wednesday's scheduled starter, Roger Mason, who just came off the disabled list, is flying back to San Francisco to have his right elbow re-examined. . . . And Giant outfielder Jeffrey Leonard, who is leading the league in game-winning RBIs with 11, has a bad wrist that has robbed him of his power--his last home run came on May 16--and will require surgery after the season. "He's played hurt for three months and I feel obligated about his future," said Giant Manager Roger Craig. "I don't want to keep putting him in the lineup if it's damaging his wrist." . Guerrero may return, but Landreaux is out. Story, Page 4.