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Dodger Hitters Pitch In to Beat Astros, 6-0

Times Staff Writer

Perhaps by force of habit, another Dodger pitcher threw a shutout Tuesday night. But for once, this seemingly daily dose of dominating pitching was not essential to ensure a victory.

Finally emerging from a slumbering September, Dodger hitters provided plenty of offense against the Houston Astros, making rookie right-hander Tim Belcher’s first major league shutout even more memorable.

The Dodgers scored runs in the early and late innings, and even in between, in their 6-0 victory, keeping their National League West lead over the Cincinnati Reds at 9 1/2 games with 12 to play, meaning the Dodgers’ magic number is 4.

If the Dodgers sweep a doubleheader against the San Diego Padres tonight, and the Reds lose to the San Francisco Giants, the Dodgers will clinch at least a tie for the title.

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Sooner or later, it certainly appears, the Dodgers will win the West. In a way, that was the same attitude they took about their recent offensive inertia. Sooner or later, it would end.

Tuesday marked the first time since Aug. 31 that the Dodgers, who had 11 hits against Bob Forsch and two Astro relievers, broke the 10-hit barrier. The last time the Dodgers produced as many runs was Aug. 26, when they scored 7 in Belcher’s win over Montreal.

“It was a little strange seeing a crooked number up there on the board tonight,” said Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda, alluding to 1-0 scores, such as Monday night’s.

But round numbers--as in zeros--also have been a common, and pleasurable, sight for Lasorda. Dodger pitchers have posted shutouts in 5 of their last 7 games, including the last 3 in a row, and have allowed just 3 earned runs in the last 62 innings. The staff’s scoreless-inning streak stands at 30.

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So Belcher was merely following the trend. One start after allowing only 1 unearned run and 3 hits but losing because Cincinnati’s Tom Browning pitched a perfect game, Belcher was dominating, if less than perfect, against the faltering Astros. He allowed 6 singles, struck out 5 and did not walk a batter as he ran his record to 11-5.

“It’s a thing that snowballs,” Belcher said of the Dodgers’ pitching. “With (John) Tudor, Orel (Hershiser) and (Tim) Leary throwing all these shutouts this season and lately, everybody just takes the field and expects a line of goose eggs.”

The only problem was, the Dodgers may have been fearing the same line on offense. Before Tuesday, Dodger hitters had produced about as many hits as Dodger pitching has been allowing. The Dodgers had hit just .139 on this trip, while posting a 4-1 record. Among the contributors Tuesday were the following:

--Franklin Stubbs, who had a double, a sacrifice fly and a home run. Stubbs had hit only .160 in his previous 11 games.

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--Mike Marshall, who had 2 doubles and a single and scored a run. Marshall, the Dodgers’ RBI leader with 77, had been 0 for 15 on the trip.

--Rick Dempsey, who had 2 hits and an RBI while filling in at catcher for Mike Scioscia, who had returned to Los Angeles for the birth of his first child.

“It’s nice to see that, because we’re a better hitting team than we’ve showed,” Marshall said. “Sooner or later, we knew we’d score some runs. We didn’t panic. We realized the situation. We had confidence that we’d eventually score. But even tonight, we had to manufacture most of them.”

The Dodgers scored a run in the first when Steve Sax singled, stole second--his 40th stolen base--took third on a ground-out and scored on Forsch’s wild pitch.

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Dempsey’s 2-out single in the second inning drove in Stubbs for a 2-0 lead. The Dodgers added an unearned run in the fourth and scored twice on sacrifice flies in the fifth. Stubbs capped the scoring with a home run off Brian Meyer in the eighth.

“It was good to score some runs and give the pitchers some breathing room,” said Stubbs, hitting only .231 this season. “They’ve done everything for us lately, including driving in the runs. We had to hold up our end of it.”

Not having to worry about support, Belcher easily handled the Astros for his first shutout in 30 major league starts.

The Astros, victims of Hershiser’s fourth straight shutout Monday night, advanced a runner past first base only in the third inning. But with 1 out and runners on second and third, Belcher got Gerald Young to fly to shallow center field and Craig Reynolds to line to Belcher, who promptly spiked the ball.

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Six innings later, after Glenn Davis had grounded to shortstop for the final out, Belcher held onto the ball, a souvenir of his first shutout.

“It’s a big thrill to do it,” Belcher said. “I was close once before (May 15 against Philadelphia). It’s hard to pitch a shutout. To think Orel’s done that 4 straight times is mind-boggling.”

Until recently, Belcher had been saddled with the label of being only an effective 6-inning pitcher. But in the past 3 weeks, after Dempsey detected a flaw in his delivery, Belcher has remained strong into the late innings.

It seems that Belcher, when he got beyond the sixth inning, would stop rotating his upper body, thus losing velocity and movement on his pitches.

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“It was like he stood there and threw without turning,” Dempsey said. “He would just aim the ball. It wasn’t his arm was getting weary. He looks like a different pitcher out there now. I keep reminding him that all he has to do is show me the numbers on his back (on his follow-through).”

The numbers the Dodger pitching staff have been exhibiting lately certainly have eased Lasorda’s mind.

“It’s been a terrific run,” Lasorda said.

And it was about time they scored some runs, too.

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