Motivation can come from unusual sources, but Wednesday night the Dodgers needed to look no farther than their clubhouse walls, which were decorated with the published prose of New York Mets pitcher and budding sportswriter David Cone.
Reading all about their failures in Game 1 of the National League championship series, as told by the Met pitcher to the New York Daily News, Dodger hitters seemed intent on making Cone issue a retraction for his derisive comments about pitchers Orel Hershiser and Jay Howell.
But the Dodgers accomplished more than that. They turned Cone’s start in Game 2, before 55,780 fans at Dodger Stadium, into a horror story for the Mets that might warrant bold headlines in New York tabloids.
Suggested one: “Dodgers Invoke Cone of Silence.”
They knocked around Cone, the Mets’ 20-game winner, for 5 runs and 5 hits in 2 innings en route to a 6-3 victory that evened the series at a game apiece heading into Game 3 Friday night in New York.
Dodger starter Tim Belcher will like what he sees in his newspaper this morning. The hard-throwing right-hander came within two outs of a complete game before faltering in the ninth. But he earned the win, as reliever Alejandro Pena bailed out both Belcher and reliever Jesse Orosco for the save.
Still, Belcher pitched a 5-hitter and struck out a career-high 10 batters. His only mistake was a 2-run home run to Keith Hernandez in the fourth inning, which had the bullpen phone buzzing.
But Belcher carried on and gave the Dodgers the lift they needed after Tuesday night’s 3-2 loss.
Belcher and Cone’s column, that is.
If, as the pointed prose appearing under Cone’s name had read, Hershiser was “lucky” to pitch 8 shutout innings in the opener and Howell had the curveball of a high school pitcher, what could you say about Cone on this night?
Well, plenty, if you’re the Dodgers.
Mickey Hatcher, a surprise starter at first base and one of the Dodgers’ main contributors, called Cone’s column “bush” before the game and said the Dodgers would not dignify what they believed was a blatant lack of respect.
“Some of the guys out there were bringing it up every inning,” Hatcher said. “But when I was out there playing, I didn’t think about it. My brain can’t handle thinking of two things.”
Belcher was thinking of little besides Met hitters and Cone’s column.
“I think (the column) backfired on him,” Belcher said. “We came in the clubhouse, and we felt down from that disheartening loss. That article may be what fired us up. I don’t know.”
Cone said afterward that he meant his comments, dictated to a ghost writer, facetiously.
Said Met catcher Gary Carter: “It always seems like when you say something, it comes back to haunt you. I’m sure David regrets what he said a little bit. . . . I’m sure he learned a lesson tonight.”
Carter, asked if the Dodgers really could use such a column as motivation, said: “Oh absolutely. I’m sure they used it that way. After the way they lost last night, they could have fallen flat. But they didn’t.”
Other Dodgers took the diplomatic route.
The copies of Cone’s column, tacked above several lockers as well as the clubhouse door before the game, had been taken down by the time the media entered. The stack of copies on Manager Tom Lasorda’s desk had been whisked away.
Hershiser declined to comment on the story, as did Marshall and others.
“I don’t know what he’ll write (for today),” Lasorda said, smiling. “He’s a great writer, I know that.”
Cone could do little right against a Dodger offense that had spent nearly all of September and most of Game 1 in a slump.
A 2-out balk in the first inning, coupled with a bloop single by Mike Marshall helped account for the Dodgers’ first run.
Then came the second inning, and Cone’s downfall. He allowed run-scoring singles to Steve Sax and Marshall and a 2-run double by Hatcher, who replaced Franklin Stubbs at first base. Marshall, emerging as the Dodgers’ most consistent hitter in the playoffs since Kirk Gibson has been struggling with injuries, went 3 for 4 with 2 RBIs. Hatcher scored 2 runs and had 2 RBIs.
With a big lead, Belcher kept the Mets silent until the ninth, which was the Dodgers’ downfall inning in Game 1. But there was no sequel, although the story line seemed vaguely familiar.
Belcher allowed a leadoff double to Len Dykstra, who scored two batters later on Hernandez’s single. Out went Belcher and in came Orosco, the former Met. It was not a sparkling return for Orosco, who gave up a single to Darryl Strawberry.
Pena nailed down the victory, but not without anxious moments. After forcing Kevin McReynolds to foul out, Pena walked Howard Johnson to load the bases. But Carter, whose bloop double in the ninth inning helped win Game 1 for the Mets, flied to Marshall in right field for the final out.
“No magic tonight,” Carter said. “But I felt good about it. After he walked HoJo, I felt the presence. I really thought I’d come through.
“Alejandro threw me a good pitch. It ran a little bit in on me. But I got the sweet part of the bat on it.”
The game over, Hatcher and other Dodgers celebrated with raised fists and slaps on the back. This was only the Dodgers’ second win over the Mets in 13 meetings this season.
“I still look at this as one ballgame,” catcher Mike Scioscia said. “We lost one ballgame last night (Tuesday), but we showed we can bounce back before. People in the media have been writing us off all year.”
Now the Dodgers will head to New York this morning, most likely eager to read Cone’s latest literary offering. Cone’s comments raised almost as much ire among Dodgers as the May incident in which Pedro Guerrero, after being hit by a pitch, threw his bat at Cone and received a 4-game suspension.
In his shortest outing of the season, Cone hurt himself in the first inning, when the Dodgers took a 1-0 lead.
That uprising, such as it was, began with one out when Hatcher ran the count to 3-2 before walking. Cone recovered to force Gibson to hit a fly ball to left for the second out. Cone had one strike on Marshall when second base umpire Dutch Rennert called Cone for a balk, allowing Hatcher to advance to second.
On the next pitch, Marshall lifted a high, shallow fly ball to left field. Because McReynolds was playing deep for Marshall, the Dodgers’ RBI leader, he had to run a long way for the ball, and shortstop Howard Johnson had to backpedal.
The ball fell between McReynolds and Johnson. Hatcher had already stepped on the plate for the game’s first run.
“It was just an area where I couldn’t get to the ball,” Johnson said. “Maybe I could have done something, but the farther you get out there, I know McReynolds was on the way. It was just hit in the perfect spot.”
Cone’s troubles escalated in the second inning. After Scioscia flied to deep right field, Cone hit Jeff Hamilton on the right elbow. Then Belcher, not exactly the Dodgers’ best-hitting pitcher, lined a single to right, Hamilton stopping at second.
Sax, finally hitting again after slumping in September, singled up the middle for a 2-0 Dodger lead. The rally was kept alive when Hatcher doubled just inside the left-field line, scoring Belcher from second and Sax from first. Sax, using a hook slide, barely beat the Mets’ relay. He celebrated plate umpire John McSherry’s safe call by exchanging body-slamming high fives with Gibson, the next hitter.
With Hatcher on second and a 2-0 count to Gibson, Met Manager Davey Johnson chose to walk Gibson because first base was open and Marshall, a right-handed hitter was next up. But Marshall, who often faced similar situations when Guerrero was hitting ahead of him, made the Mets regret that decision. He slashed a single to right, scoring Hatcher and moving Gibson to third.
Cone finally struck out John Shelby to end the inning, but that was all for the Met pitcher, who was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the top of the third.
Well, at least Cone had plenty of time to think of an angle for his Thursday column.
“The only real mistake I made was the hanging slider Marshall hit for a double,” said Cone.
Belcher had his way with the Mets until the fourth. After walking Gregg Jefferies to open the inning, he got 2 strikes on Hernandez before the Met first baseman deposited a high fastball over the 395-foot sign just to the right of center field.
Strawberry followed with a single to right. But Belcher struck out McReynolds for the second time and, with Johnson up, Scioscia threw out Strawberry attempting to steal second. That allowed Tim Leary and Ricky Horton, throwing in the Dodgers’ bullpen during the fourth, to return to the bench.
Still, the Dodger lead had been reduced to 5-2.
Belcher, apparently, learned from his mistake when he next faced Hernandez. He struck him out on a low, inside pitch to end an inning that began with promise for the Mets. After walking Dykstra, Belcher got Jefferies to ground into a double play. Then, Belcher struck out Hernandez for his eighth strikeout, tying his career high.
“I was mad at myself after the home run,” Belcher said. “But you just go behind the mound, holler a little, and then get back up there to pitch. The most important thing to do is bounce back.”
The Dodgers certainly did bounce back Wednesday night. They can thank Cone for the inspiration.
“I know I, personally, came to the park mad,” Belcher said. “I was down after last night. Then, I read that article . . . “