So baffled were Dodger hitters by the dips and swirls and other gravitational contradictions of many of Mike Scott's pitches Wednesday night, they couldn't help but question whether the Houston pitcher had split the baseballs as well as his fingers before throwing.
To satisfy their curiousity and perhaps justify their 4-0 loss to the Astros behind Scott's superb one-hitter, the Dodgers asked plate umpire Charlie Williams to check the balls for marks, cracks or evidence of sand-blasting no less than 12 times.
Each time, Williams declared the ball clean. The Dodgers suspected Scott of tampering with the ball as early as the first inning and as late as the ninth, claiming all the balls in question were marked in the same spot. Afterward, a Dodger ball boy presented the umpires with a box full of balls for their perusal.
"I don't appreciate (Manager Tom Lasorda) getting a ball boy to send over a box of baseballs," John Kibler, the first-base umpire told reporters afterward. "If he wants to send them over here, he should bring them himself."
Whether it was merely split-fingered sorcery or secretive sculpture, Scott was nearly unhittable Wednesday night. The only Dodger hit was Mariano Duncan's line-drive single to left-center in the third inning. The only other Dodger baserunner was Mike Marshall, who walked in the fourth but was thrown out on a steal attempt.
Scott, clearly in the form that earned him the Cy Young Award last season, had 10 strikeouts, some of which came on pitches that clearly fooled the hitters and drew gasps from the crowd of 43,381.
Nasty was the word Duncan used to describe some of Scott's pitches that moved in mysterious ways. Another word about Scott's pitches also was being whispered in the Dodger clubhouse: Scuff ?
This certainly is not the first time Scott has been accused of doctoring the ball. After the first and fourth games of last fall's National League championship series--both won by Scott--the New York Mets made a well-publicized appeal about Scott's supposed tactics.
Nothing was proven, of course, but the controversey lingered in the off-season and now has been revived by the Dodgers.
"He's been accused of that quite a lot of times," Lasorda said. "We saw some balls that looked like (there were marks), but I'm not using that as an excuse. The guy pitched a great game. The guys were complaining. We checked about a dozen of them."
Dodger player representative Dave Anderson, who didn't get in the game, made the requests to Williams at home plate.
"He (Williams) never threw any out, so it's hard to say that he was throwing balls (with scuff marks)," Anderson said. "There were some balls that looked like there were marks, and we wanted to check because we knew about what happened last season. The Mets complained about him."
Said Duncan: "I checked the ball my second time up when he struck me out. But the umpire threw it back to the pitcher. The only reason I had it checked was because he was throwing it fast and getting that movement. Our guys swung at a lot of bad pitches that looked like good pitches."
Scott's response when told of the Dodgers' comments was sarcastic.
"Well, what a surprise," Scott said, smirking. "This is the first time they have done that.
"Obviously, it means I was making some pretty good pitches. It's happened before and it'll happen again. All it does is make the game longer."
Williams, the plate umpire, said he looked closely at all the balls that were questioned and saw no irregularities.
"I must have checked 12 of them and didn't see anything wrong," Williams said. "Lasorda said the balls looked like they had been sanded down. I didn't see anything."
After a while, the Dodger ball-checking seemingly became a crusade among the players. Psychologically, it may have helped Scott. It certainly helped his mystique.
Tracy Woodson, the club's rookie third baseman who struck out once and grounded out twice, said he was wondering about it while hitting.
"The ball I struck out on ran up and out," Woodson said. "Everybody else was checking (balls), and I figured I would. Maybe I'd get lucky and find the one that was marked even if the other ones couldn't find it."
No such luck.
For whatever reason, the Dodgers just couldn't hit Scott. Only twice was the Astro defense called upon to save potential hits, third baseman Phil Garner nabbing a difficult grounder by Steve Sax in the first inning and shortstop Craig Reynolds going deep in the hole and throwing out Woodson in the eighth.
The Astros, who salvaged one of the three games of the series, got all the runs they needed--two--off Dodger starter Alejandro Pena in the fourth inning. Billy Hatcher hit a solo home run to left, and after Terry Puhl doubled to left, Glenn Davis knocked him in with a double to right.
Tim Leary, who replaced Pena in the seventh, gave up a run in the eighth on an RBI double by Hatcher and then surrendered a solo home run to Davis in the ninth. While the Dodgers' pitching was solid, Scott was spectacular. But Scott scoffed at anyone who dared compare his one-hitter Wednesday with his no-hitter late last season against San Francisco.
"I'd be very surprised if I had the same year as last year," Scott said. "I didn't even think about a no-hitter because I gave up a base hit in the third inning. I was just trying to win."
Alan Ashby, the Astro catcher, said that, as good as Scott was, he can pitch better.
"I've seen him with a lot better stuff," Ashby said.
Managers Tom Lasorda and Hal Lanier held a summit meeting near the batting cage before the game to try to smooth out the bad feelings between the teams in Houston and here. Said Lanier: "I wanted to clear the air with Lasorda. We've been friends before. I hope we're friends now. Too much has been made of this whole rivalry thing." . . . The Houston Astros apparently are having the same problem as a few local sportswriters. They cannot reach Jerry Reuss. The Astros, apparently thinking that rookie Dave Meads is not their man, are interested in signing Reuss as a left-handed reliever. But they have yet to find Reuss, who was released by the Dodgers last Friday and has cleared waivers. The Dodgers owe Reuss $1.35 million over the next two seasons, and any club may sign Reuss for the minimum of $62,500, with the Dodgers making up the difference. The Philadelphia Phillies also have expressed interest in Reuss. . . . Trainer Bill Buhler said that the pulled muscle in Rick Honeycutt's right rib area is improving but that he definitely will miss his start Saturday against the San Diego Padres. Brian Holton is the likely replacement. The Dodgers are contemplating putting Honeycutt on the disabled list because his injury has responded to treatment. They might make a determination in the next two days. . . . Honeycutt, by the way, said he was only joking Tuesday about needing two beers to go along with two pain pills to sleep after getting hurt Monday night. He did not actually do that. . . . Doctors said Wednesday that Dodger Coach Manny Mota is suffering from a gastric condition, which caused his chest pains. Mota is expected to be released from Glendale Memorial Hospital at noon today and rejoin the team Friday night in San Diego. . . . Steve Sax pulled a hip flexor muscle, not his groin muscle, in the eighth inning of the Dodgers' 3-2 win in 12 innings Tuesday night. "Maybe I did it on a check swing," Sax said. Sax was still able to double to left field and later score on Pedro Guerrero's single. After that, he had to be removed from the game. But he was back in the lineup Wednesday night. . . . Bill Madlock said his right shoulder feels strong. Dodger trainers have given Madlock permission to start swimming to improve the range of motion. . . . The Dodgers left about an hour after the game on a bus to San Diego.