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Cardinals Walk Past Dodgers : Valenzuela’s Wildness Helps St. Louis, 5-2

Times Staff Writer

Fernando Valenzuela’s control problems, which have been as hard for the Dodger left-hander to shake as an annoying spring cold, resurfaced Saturday night and once again were too much to overcome.

The St. Louis Cardinals, who excel at making the most out of every baserunning situation, used some of the six walks issued by Valenzuela, in addition to six hits, for a 5-2 victory over the Dodgers before a crowd of 47,425 at Dodger Stadium.

The loss dropped the Dodgers a half-game behind the Houston Astros in the National League West.

While the Cardinals had four baserunners after only two innings, which they cashed in for two runs, the Dodgers had only four baserunners going into the ninth inning against Randy O’Neal, who yielded only two hits before faltering.

One out away from a shutout, O’Neal gave up singles to Pedro Guerrero and Mike Marshall, and then a run-scoring single to Danny Heep ended his shutout bid. Mike Davis brought the Dodgers a run closer with an RBI single off reliever Larry McWilliams, who got the save when Mike Scioscia grounded to second to end it.

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On an unseasonably cold and windy night, conditions more indigenous to Candlestick Park than Chavez Ravine, Valenzuela struggled through the early part of the game and did not hit his stride until the sixth inning. By that time, it was too late, realistically, to try to salvage this one.

Valenzuela (2-3) gave up only two hits through three innings, but found himself trailing, 4-0. Of the 62 pitches Valenzuela threw in the first three innings, 31 were balls. He allowed three walks in that span, two accounting for runs.

“I had trouble throwing strikes in the first two innings,” said Valenzuela, who has allowed 19 walks in 37 innings. “I don’t know why. If I knew, I’d change it. The difference tonight was the walks. That’s true (against) all teams.

“It’s a lot like last year, the walks. Who knows, maybe next time, I don’t walk guys and they still score six runs.”

As he often does, though, Valenzuela became stronger as the game progressed. He was pulled for a pinch-hitter after 8 innings, allowing 4 earned runs, 6 hits, 6 walks and striking out 4.

Valenzuela, who wore glasses while pitching from the fourth inning on because of the dust swirling around the field, said the weather conditions did not affect him.

Manager Tom Lasorda thought they might have.

“It just seemed like he couldn’t get loose,” Lasorda said. “That might have been a factor.

“Fernando had that nine days off between starts (because of four rainouts), then had five days off before tonight and will have six days off before his next start, so we wanted to keep him in there and let him get in a groove. Otherwise, I would have pulled him for a pinch-hitter.”

The sellout crowd at Dodger Stadium no doubt came to watch Valenzuela pitch, perhaps anticipating a sequel to his 5-hit shutout performance in 7 innings at San Francisco last Sunday.

Instead, they were treated to a dominating effort by O’Neal, who had a falling-out with the Atlanta Braves last season and was traded to the Cardinals for journeyman reliever Joe Boever. O’Neal, a former Detroit Tiger teammate of Dodger Kirk Gibson before pitching for Atlanta for part of 1987, retired the first 11 Dodgers he faced before giving up a fourth-inning single to Gibson. The next Dodger baserunner came in the sixth, when Steve Sax singled, but O’Neal still was baffling Dodger hitters.

Guerrero let his frustration show after walking in the seventh. Replays showed that Guerrero yelled something at O’Neal, who proceeded to walk Marshall before working out of the jam.

"(Guerrero) had to do what he had to do,” O’Neal said. “I didn’t talk to Guerrero. I never talk to opposing hitters.”

By the time the Dodgers finally figured out O’Neal, they had two outs in the ninth.

“He was doing a good job, keeping the ball down,” Gibson said. “He had good movement on his fastball. This game is funny. We may knock the . . . out of him next time. He’s another guy who’s not overpowering but gets the job done.

“He’s not unhittable or unbeatable. But tonight, he was.”

Valenzuela, on the other hand, certainly was in the early innings.

Successive walks to Vince Coleman and Ozzie Smith is not the best way to open a game, but Valenzuela did just that. It plunged him into trouble early, as the Cardinals pushed across a run in the first without getting a hit.

It looked as if Valenzuela might escape, striking out Willie McGee, who had three hits in the game. But then, with Bob Horner at bat, Coleman and Smith advanced a base each on a double steal. Coleman came home when Horner lifted a fly ball to center. Only a good backhand by second baseman Sax on Terry Pendleton’s grounder prevented a second run from scoring.

But St. Louis got to Valenzuela again in the second inning. Valenzuela didn’t walk anybody this time, but he still wasn’t effective. The Cardinal rally began when Tom Brunansky hit a hard grounder that Guerrero gloved behind third base. Guerrero, planted in foul territory, threw several feet wide of Marshall at first base, enabling Brunansky to take second on the error.

Brunansky then went to third on Tony Pena’s groundout and scored on a fielder’s choice bunt by rookie second baseman Luis Alicea. Brunansky was not running on the pitch, but he was near home plate when the bunt was laid down. Valenzuela fielded the ball and, with the ball still in his glove, flipped it to Scioscia. Brunansky, wisely avoiding a collision at the plate, reached around and tagged the plate with his left hand.

If it was any solace to Valenzuela, which it probably wasn’t, the second-inning run was unearned, because of Guerrero’s error.

Another Valenzuela walk, this time to Smith to open the third inning, began a 2-run rally for the Cardinals that gave them a 4-0 lead.

Dodger Notes

Reliever Jay Howell, who earned his second save Friday night, has yet to show any adverse effects from off-season surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow. “He’s been responding nicely from these outings,” said Pat Screnar, the Dodgers’ physical therapist. “There has not been a setback.” Howell has made only five appearances because of strong showings by starters and four straight rainouts. He has not allowed a run in 5 innings and worked once on consecutive days--last Saturday and Sunday against San Francisco. “It’s up to Tommy (Lasorda, the manager) and (Ron) Perranoski (the pitching coach) how they use him,” Screnar said. “They obviously won’t use him a lot back-to-back, because he hasn’t pitched that much (only 9 innings in spring training). But he’s certainly capable of doing it.” . . . Center fielder John Shelby, eligible to come off the disabled list Wednesday, is progressing in his rehabilitation from a strained abdominal muscle sustained on April 18. But Screnar said he is not sure when Shelby, a switch-hitter, will be activated.

The first of pitcher Don Sutton’s incentive bonuses kicks in today. As part of his agreement with the Dodgers, Sutton will earn an extra $25,000 for being on the roster on May 1. The next incentive bonus will come Monday, when Sutton is scheduled to make his fifth start of the season. He earns $5,000 for having five starts. . . .

Tim Leary (2-1) faces John Tudor (0-0) today at 1.


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