Had Don King promoted this game, it would have been dubbed the Humiliation in the Humidity. Or, if you prefer the title of Pretensions of Contention, that works, too.
The Dodgers, talking of a big comeback after winning two straight and planning a major assault starting tonight on Cincinnati, didn't even make it out of Atlanta on Sunday afternoon before those plans were altered.
They were thoroughly trounced by the Braves, 10-5, as surprise starter Ken Howell was bombed and the Dodger defense furnished enough misadventures to make certain any comeback would fall short.
But the big blow to the Dodgers' longshot chances of contending in the National League West came when first baseman Franklin Stubbs dislocated his right shoulder diving for a ground ball in the fourth inning. The Dodgers, who recalled third baseman Jeff Hamilton from Albuquerque, said Stubbs will be out for at least four to six weeks.
Depending on the severity of the injury, Stubbs might miss the rest of the season. Stubbs spent the night in an Atlanta hospital. He will fly to Los Angeles today and be examined by Dr. Frank Jobe.
The rest of the Dodgers retreated, rather than charged, into Cincinnati Sunday night to open a three-game series.
For a team that trailed, 9-0, at one point Sunday and lost by five runs, the Dodgers still headed north a confident bunch.
"This is one of our problems," shortstop Dave Anderson said. "We get something going and start thinking positive, then we play a game like this. But, hey, if we win two and get blown out one in every series, we'll be OK."
Added third baseman Mickey Hatcher, who will move to first because of Stubbs' injury: "This game is over, so why mope? I'm encouraged, because I hear guys getting geared up for the Cincinnati series."
The fourth-place Dodgers (47-57) arrived in Cincinnati 8 1/2 games behind the first-place Reds. The Braves, given up for dead after two losses to the Dodgers earlier in the weekend, are now only a game behind the Dodgers.
"This was a big game for us," Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda said. "(If) we beat them today and we're three games up (on Atlanta) and we stick with (Cincinnati). We needed this one."
Also knowing the importance of the upcoming series with the Reds, the Dodgers decided to save ace Orel Hershiser, Sunday's scheduled starter, for the Reds and go with Howell against the Braves.
But the Dodgers weren't able to overcome Howell's ineffectiveness, and the defensive foibles merely compounded the problem.
Then again, maybe it was better that Hershiser was spared the indignity of enduring the following fielding follies that were played out in 92-degree heat and stifling humidity:
--With two out in the third and Brave runners on first and third, Ken Oberkfell popped up behind third base. Hatcher seemingly had the ball in his sights, then backed off for shortstop Anderson, then backed in and tried to make the catch.
The ball fell to the ground, scoring a run and giving the Braves a 2-0 lead.
"(Anderson) was asking me if I had it, but I thought he was telling me he had it," Hatcher explained. "He said, 'Got it?' and I didn't know it was a question. " --With the Braves leading, 4-0, in the fourth and runners on first and second, Ken Griffey lifted a high, deep fly to right field.
The ball carried to the wall and Mike Marshall, the Dodgers' right fielder, pressed against the fence to make the catch. Marshall said the ball skimmed the wall and hit him in the back of the head. It fell for a single.
But that was only the start of an odd play. Brave base runners Dion James and Gerald Perry were stacked up near third and Perry was on second. A comical rundown ensued, in which Brave runners retreated, then advanced. Finally, James was tagged out between home and third, but the Braves went on to score four more runs for an 8-0 lead.
"It was a crazy play," Marshall said. "That was one of the highest balls I've ever seen hit. Usually, a ball like that either goes over the fence or it's caught. But it hit me in the back of the head. Maybe I just botched the play, but I felt I was in control."
--In the fifth inning, another Brave rally was aided by an error, this time Alex Trevino's throwing error on a pickoff play at second that moved Brave runners to second and third. Another unearned run eventually scored.
Those mistakes aside, Howell still was the Dodgers' biggest offender in Sunday's loss. Originally scheduled to pitch tonight in Cincinnati, Howell was moved up a day so that Hershiser could go against the Reds. The Dodgers indicated that Howell was moved up so he could attend the funeral of a relative, but Howell said the funeral is scheduled for Tuesday and that he could have pitched Monday night.
For whatever reason, the move backfired Sunday.
Howell did not find out he was pitching until Sunday morning chapel service in the clubhouse, when pitching coach Ron Perranoski handed him the ball.
Howell gave up a single run in the first and the unearned run in the third before getting bombed in the Braves' six-run third.
The demise of Howell began when he gave up a leadoff home run to light-hitting Paul Runge. It was only Runge's second career home run, the other being an inside-the-park hit in 1985. After a walk, a sacrifice and two more singles, Howell was lifted. But the Braves' rally rolled on against reliever Brad Havens.
Ultimately, Howell was charged for 5 runs (4 earned) and 7 hits in 3 innings. Havens faced six batters and gave up four hits before leaving in the fifth inning with a strained muscle in his left rib cage.
Atlanta had a 9-0 lead in the seventh, when the Dodger offense awakened against Brave starter Zane Smith.
The Dodgers produced their biggest inning of the season--five runs on five hits. But when it was over, they still trailed by four runs with two innings to play. The Braves made the final count, 10-5, when James hit a bases-empty home run in the eighth off Brian Holton.
"I hope we got this sort of game out of our system and go to Cincinnati and play well," Anderson said. "I still think this team can win. We're confident."
Fred Claire, the Dodgers vice president, huddled with Manager Tom Lasorda after learning the extent of Franklin Stubb's shoulder dislocation and decided to recall third baseman Jeff Hamilton. Claire said Hamilton will start at third base, not sit. Lasorda also said Hatcher will be the regular first baseman, but he also considered using Pedro Guerrero or Mike Marshall at first. Those still are possibilities, Lasorda said. . . . Hamilton was hitting .360 in Albuquerque as of Sunday. He will join the team today. "Hamilton's confidence level is good," Claire said. "He wants the opportunity to play and it's here in front of him. He's going to play." . . . Everybody seems to have an opinion on the Dodgers' decline. Sunday, former Dodger Bill Madlock analyzed the club in the New York Times and talked about the rumors that the Dodgers will trade for Baltimore's Eddie Murray. "They have to do something to get offense in there," Madlock said. "They could have gotten Tim (Raines) for a lot less (than Murray's lucrative contract)."