Tim Belcher calmly removed a bat from the rack in the corner of the Dodger dugout, slammed it against the dugout steps, then flung it under the bench.
At that moment in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the National League’s championship series Wednesday night, Belcher wasn’t thinking about the David Cone column that had so enraged and ignited the Dodgers.
He was only angry, frustrated and disappointed with himself.
Despite having restricted the New York Mets to 2 runs and 3 hits in 8 innings, Belcher went to the bench in the ninth tensely recalling the ninth inning of Game 1, when the Mets had scored 3 runs for a 3-2 win.
“You just can’t give a team like that chances,” Belcher said later, “and I was disappointed that I had. I kept seeing another ninth inning like the night before.”
It didn’t happen again. Alejandro Pena ultimately choked off the Mets’ last gasp, preserving a 6-3 victory that enabled the Dodgers to tie the best-of-7 series at a game apiece.
As Belcher sat watching the final drama, Orel Hershiser, who had experienced similar emotions in that stunning ninth inning Tuesday night, put an arm around his shoulders.
“Orel reminded me that it didn’t matter if we won 6-3 or 6-4 or 6-5,” Belcher said. “The only thing that mattered is that we win, and he said that I had done more than my part. He helped put it back in perspective for me.”
Belcher helped improve the Dodgers’ perspective by striking out a career-high 10 and limiting the Mets to 2 runs through 8 innings--both coming on Keith Hernandez’s homer in the fourth.
Hernandez hit a high fastball that Belcher said was his only real mistake until the ninth, when he didn’t get another pair of fastballs in far enough on (1) Lenny Dykstra, who led off the inning with a double, and (2) Hernandez, who drove in Dykstra with a 1-out single, sending Belcher to the bench and the bat rack.
“It was frustrating, making mistakes in that situation with my No. 1 pitch,” he said. “I was going along too good to do that.”
How good was he going?
Belcher didn’t allow a hit between a Darryl Strawberry single that followed Hernandez’s homer and Dykstra’s leadoff double in the ninth.
The groove was similar to the one in which the 26-year-old right-hander ended the season, allowing only 2 earned runs in his last 30 innings and winning 9 of his last 11 starts.
Wednesday night, before a crowd of 55,780, with the Game 1 defeat burdening the Dodger psyche, Belcher continued to provide stability of the type he displayed while Tim Leary struggled down the stretch.
Leary’s inconsistency and the hip injury suffered by John Tudor thrust Belcher into the Game 2 start, almost a must-win for the pitcher who was 12-6 and deserved better in his rookie year, as a 2.91 earned-run average would indicate.
Did he feel the pressure? Was Game 1 with him as he went to the mound?
Yes and no.
“I wasn’t nervous; I didn’t really feel any pressure,” he said. “I was more mad than anything. I was angry at the way we had lost last night, and then I was angrier yet when I read what Cone had written.”
Copies of Cone’s column in the New York Daily News had been distributed throughout the Dodger clubhouse before the game.
The Met pitcher would later say he had only meant it facetiously, but that didn’t placate Belcher.
“He has a right to his opinion,” Belcher said, “but I would have thought he would have let a sleeping dog lie.” The Dodgers, riding Cone from the bench (“he deserved it,” Belcher said), drove him out with 1 run in the first and 4 more in the second when an .093 career-hitter named Belcher delivered one of the 4 hits, a ground-single to center.
Belcher later cited that early support and said it made his job considerably easier. He also cited a better-than-usual curve for helping keep a fastball-hitting team off balance.
“The whole key was the early runs,” Belcher said. “I could challenge the Mets. I could go after them. I had that cushion to work with.’
Just as the Dodgers--and Belcher--also had Cone’s column.