On a night in which one well-known fortysomething pitcher, Nolan Ryan, flirted with sixth no-hitter in Houston, another aged pitcher by the name of Don Sutton once again tried for a lesser milestone--his first win as a Dodger, the second time around.
Ryan's bid ended in the ninth inning, but Sutton finally notched his first Dodger win--and career No. 322--after three false starts this season. Sutton shut out the Chicago Cubs through six innings, faltered and was replaced in the seventh, but still came away a winner in the Dodgers' 4-0 victory Wednesday night before a crowd of 29,462 at Dodger Stadium.
"They should have taken that old guy (Ryan) out after seven," said Sutton, sarcastically. "He's too old to go longer."
Some have said that in all seriousness about Sutton, who, at 43, is two years older than Ryan. Wednesday's win wasn't a masterpiece, but then, expectations aren't as high at this stage of Sutton's career. He ventured into the seventh inning for first time this season, before fading as his pitch count surpassed 90.
But with the help of reliever Alejandro Pena and the Dodger infield (that's right), Sutton escaped that jam. Pena then shut down the Cubs in the eighth and ninth for his second save. The win kept the Dodgers (12-5) in first place in the National League West.
"Here (with the Dodgers), I haven't really been stereotyped as a 5- or 6-inning pitcher, and I resent being called that," Sutton said. "Tommy (Lasorda, the manager) and Ron (Perranoski, the pitching coach) have gone by how I pitch. They've treated me like a veteran pitcher."
Still, when Sutton began the seventh with a 3-hitter, it was uncharted territory for him this season. He had not made it past the sixth in any of his previous three starts, although he allowed only two runs through six inning in a loss to Atlanta 10 days ago. So, as a precautionary measure, Lasorda had Pena and Brad Havens warming up in the bullpen.
After Leon Durham walked and Jody Davis singled, Lasorda made the change. He went against the percentages and brought in Pena, a right-hander, to face a trio of right-handed Cub hitters. Pena got out of the seventh and logged two more relatively uneventful innings. He now has not allowed a run in 9 innings of relief.
Pena, however, needed the assist of the Dodger infield to work out of the seventh-inning predicament.
With runners on first and second and none out, Vance Law hit a hard shot to Pedro Guerrero at third base. Guerrero tagged third--jamming his right knee--but his throw to first was too late for a double play. Shawon Dunston, the next Cub hitter, smashed a grounder in back of first base, but Mike Marshall fielded the ball and slid into the bag just ahead of the runner. "That was a helluva play by Marshall," Lasorda said. "It was a close play, even with what he did, sliding. I didn't see any errors up there tonight. That's good."
An even more welcome sight to Lasorda was Sutton's quality start, which resulted in his first win.
"He kept us in the game, and that's what we need," Lasorda said. "We didn't want him to get caught short (in the seventh). So, when he got two runners on, that was it."
Sutton agreed that his time was up. Perhaps if he had not struggled in the first two innings--making 23 and 16 pitches, respectively--Sutton might have had enough to stick around for a rare complete game.
"What I didn't want to do was cause us to lose," Sutton said. "Had I used my pitches more wisely early on, I would've been OK later. But there were a couple innings when I said, 'OK, here it is, hit it.'
"It's a whole different situation when you have a 4-0 lead, because the only way you could lose before they get you out of there is to give up a four-run home run. And I wasn't going to do that."
The Dodgers scored only one run for Sutton in his last start, a 2-1 loss to the Braves, so the offense was welcome.
The 4-0 lead to which Sutton was staked after five innings mainly resulted from good baserunning and timely hits, plus several Cub miscues.
But, since the Dodger defense gave the Cubs five unearned runs the night before, maybe this was some sort of justice.
"Clubs who win pennants are clubs who rebound from nights like Tuesday," Sutton said. "We didn't have any errors and we scored some runs."
The Dodgers' first run, in the first inning, was made possible by two stolen bases by Steve Sax. Sax, hitting just .210 coming into the game, led off with a single to center. After Alfredo Griffin struck out, Sax decided to take matters in his own hands.
He easily stole second. Then, with the count 2-and-1 to Kirk Gibson, Sax tried to steal third. The ball beat Sax to the bag, but Law missed the tag. Even Sax seemed a little surprised that he was safe. Gibson knocked the next pitch to second, Sax scoring on the groundout.
The Dodgers' next rally came in the fourth. It was slightly more impressive. With one out, Mickey Hatcher singled to right. Hatcher, not the swiftest of Dodgers, advanced from first to third on pitcher Jamie Moyer's wild pitch.
Mike Devereaux, in his second start since being recalled from Albuquerque, then singled off shortstop Dunston's glove and into left field. Another Moyer wild pitch moved Devereaux to third.
With a 2-0 lead, Lasorda had room to experiment, so he employed one of his favorites--the squeeze play. With the count 1-and-1 to Sutton, Devereaux broke from third and almost reached home plate before Sutton squared and made contact and it was 3-0.
Moyer didn't make it out of the fifth inning, even though the Dodgers didn't exactly knock him around. This time, it was partly Moyer's fault. Griffin led off the inning with a grounder to first baseman Durham, who flipped the ball to Moyer covering first base. But Moyer dropped it. Gibson, then blooped a single to left, his second hit of the night, advancing Griffin to third.
Then Guerrero singled to right for his team-leading 15th RBI. Cubs Manager Don Zimmer summoned left-hander Drew Hall, who snuffed out the rally. But the Cubs trailed 4-0, and Sutton had yet to show the usual warning signs of fatigue.
Outfielder Mike Davis, hitting just .185 and mired in an 0-for-14 slump, was given the night off by Manager Tom Lasorda Wednesday against left-hander Jamie Moyer. "We're hoping this will help," Lasorda said. "Sometimes, when you take a guy who's slumping out and let him watch for a night, the next day he snaps out of it." Said Davis, who took extra batting practice and hit out of a batting cage before Wednesday's game: "I didn't ask for it. But I guess it is easier for a person's mind to rest and watch a game. But the competitive nature does not want to come out of any game. Every night, I believe this is the night I break out of it. I can see the ball already flying out of the park for my first home run that will break me loose. Maybe I got to get that out of my mind and just think about singles first. I've talked a good game to this point. It's time to do it. And I am going to do it." . . . Despite a 9-game hitting streak and a team-high .463 batting average, catcher Mike Scioscia also was given the night to rest his sore Achilles tendon but also because a left-hander was pitching. "I'd like to see Mike catch 140 games a year," Lasorda said. "That way, he'll be strong down the stretch. Mike is the number one catcher, but I don't want to work him to death." Told that Scioscia was not pleased with the decision, Lasorda said: "He'd never ask for a night off. If he had to crawl out there, he'd do it."
Scoring change from Tuesday night: Mickey Hatcher's ground ball that hopped over the glove of Cub third baseman Vance Law originally was ruled an error. Official scorer Terry Bales, after reviewing the play, changed it to a double. . . . Reliever Brian Holton, who pitched a scoreless inning against the Cubs Tuesday night, threw despite dizziness and a swollen mouth. Holton underwent root canal surgery Tuesday morning and more surgery Wednesday morning. "I didn't even know who was up there hitting, I was that dizzy," Holton said. "I feel a lot better today." . . . Short reliever Jesse Orosco's one inning of work Tuesday night was his first appearance in 15 days, thanks to a bevy of rainouts and strong pitching efforts by Dodger starters. "I've been throwing on the side, so I still felt fresh," Orosco said. . . . Center fielder John Shelby, on the disabled list with a strained left abdominal muscle, ran in the outfield for the second straight day since suffering the injury last Monday night. Shelby is eligible to come off the disabled list on May 3. . . . Pitcher Ken Howell, still rehabilitating his right shoulder after off-season surgery, said he felt no discomfort the day after pitching another simulated game before batting practice on Tuesday. Howell threw 55 pitches, the equivalent of four innings. He received good reviews from pitching coach Ron Perranoski, but improvement in Howell's recovery time is what will determine when he will be sent to Bakersfield on a rehabilitation assignment. After past simulated games, Howell had experienced considerable soreness and stiffness two days afterward. "I feel stronger each time out," Howell said. "The consistency in my pitching is getting better. But recovery time is the main thing. If I can't recover quick enough, and if I still try to go down there on a 21-day rehabilitation assignment, I might hurt something else or hurt something new. I've got to take my time, so that when I'm done with the rehab, I'll be ready to pitch."