For Orel Hershiser, his first exhibition outing--three scoreless innings (what else?) against the New York Mets--was more than just a beginning.
"Today was probably the beginning of the end of 1988," the Dodger pitcher said. "And Opening Day will definitely be the end of 1988.
"It was kind of sentimental, and kind of odd, to take the mound after such a great season and start to realize all that is gone, that now I have to start working toward new goals."
And whether those goals are met or not, Hershiser is well aware of how anything he does in 1989 probably will pale in comparison to last season's feats, which included 26 wins (three in the postseason), the National League's Cy Young Award, and most valuable player awards in both the playoffs and World Series.
"I'm set up for the biggest fall of my life," Hershiser said. "Here I am. If I don't win 20 games or have an earned-run average under three, I'm a failure."
Pitching against the Mets, of course, recalled some of his most memorable triumphs, although Hershiser admitted to feeling awkward upon seeing the team that he vanquished last fall in the playoffs.
"It was a tough situation," he said. "I didn't know if I should look over to the Mets' dugout and give them a smile and say how are you doing, say something to Davey (Johnson, the Mets' manager).
"So I walked off the mound and didn't do anything. I didn't want to do anything to embarrass them or get them riled up. It's kind of odd to beat somebody in an emotional part of your career, then see them again. I wouldn't have wanted to go up to Jack Clark after he hit the home run to beat us in 1985. Every time I see him, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth."
So he had nothing to say to any of the Mets.
"It's like we weren't in the same room," he said. "I had no idea how to approach anybody. I'd like to talk to all of them like I used to. In a different situation, maybe it will get back to normal. Maybe it's all my imagination."
That wasn't Hershiser's imagination that struck out Darryl Strawberry with Mets on second and third, ending the pitcher's three-inning stint. He gave up three singles--an opposite-field bloop by Gary Carter, a bunt single by Tim Teufel and ground single by Len Dykstra past a diving Willie Randolph, who was making his first start at second base as a Dodger.
"I made about seven or eight mistakes they probably would have ripped in the regular season," Hershiser said. "Fortunately, they're as rusty as I am."
Leave it to Pedro Guerrero--in absentia, no less--to stir up the closest thing they've had to a controversy in Dodgertown this spring. Guerrero, still smarting from last August's trade that sent him to the St. Louis Cardinals, took the unusual step of sending a message through Mariano Duncan to two Dodger beat writers, inviting them to come to St. Petersburg--where the Cardinals train--for dinner and an interview.
Guerrero, apparently promoting a book he claims to be writing, used the occasion to lash out at the Dodgers, especially Manager Tom Lasorda and Executive Vice President Fred Claire, in interviews with Tom Keegan of the Orange County Register and Ken Gurnick of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner.
On Lasorda, Guerrero was quoted as saying: "He's got a whole bunch of rules, but nobody follows his rules. Why? Because nobody respects him as a manager."
On Claire, Guerrero said: "Now what can you talk with Fred about baseball? How to throw a curveball? He doesn't even know how to grab a baseball, that's how much he knows about the game. How to catch a ball? Give him a glove. See if he knows how to put it on. I'm serious. Give him a glove and see if he knows how to put it on."
Guerrero, voted only a half-share in World Series money, also said there were numerous teammates who didn't like him, blaming it on jealousy of his multiyear contract, a jealousy he claimed was tinged with racism.
Claire took Guerrero's comments in stride, and even expressed a willingness to take up Guerrero's invitation to field some ground balls.
"My reaction? No comento ," Lasorda said. "I'm not getting into an argument with him through the papers. He's not going to use me to get back against somebody else like he used some people.
"Sure I'm disappointed," said Lasorda, adding that he has no intention of talking to Guerrero about the matter. "What good would it do?"
Lasorda did offer a testimony to Claire's prowess afield. "I remember a (pickup) game down here when Fred was on my team, there were runners on first and second, and Bobby Darwin hit a shot. Fred was breaking with the crack of bat, scooped up the ball, stepped on second and threw to first for a double play.
"That was one of the most memorable plays I've seen in a long time."
Postscript on Guerrero: For long-time Dodger observers, it was laughable that Guerrero faulted Lasorda for running too casual a clubhouse. Lasorda bent over backward to accommodate Guerrero, who demanded star treatment at every opportunity and usually got it. For Guerrero to suggest he would have preferred otherwise is ludicrous.
Eddie Murray, batting right-handed against Mets left-hander David West, hit his first homer as a Dodger Sunday. "Doesn't mean a thing," he said. "I'm just getting ready for the season." By now, Murray said, the Dodgers should know what he's capable of doing. No need to convince them in the spring. "I hope that's the way it is," Murray said. "I'm not trying to impress anybody." . . . Ramon Martinez, in his first exhibition appearance, battled wildness in his initial attempt to establish himself as the team's No. 5 starter. Martinez gave up three runs in one inning, and in another inning held the Mets scoreless even though he gave up a hit, a walk, and two hit batsmen. There also was a passed ball in the inning. . . . Ray Searage didn't help his bid for a bullpen spot when he gave up six hits and five runs in 1 2/3 innings. For the second straight game, the Mets came from five runs down to beat the Dodgers, this time, 10-9. The Dodgers are 0-3 in exhibition play. . . . Mike Devereaux had a home run, a single and stole a base for the Dodgers. . . . Willie Randolph started at second base for the first time as a Dodger. . . . Fernando Valenzuela makes his first start of the spring today against Montreal.