With thunder and lightning providing the ideal backdrop for a horror story, Tom Lasorda must have felt like he'd entered the twilight zone here in the Dodgers' 6-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals Friday night.
As if it weren't haunting enough to see Pedro Guerrero collect two hits in a Cardinal uniform, Lasorda was forced to flash back on one of his most nightmarish afternoons as Dodger manager--the day singles hitter Ozzie Smith went deep and all but destroyed Tom Niedenfuer in the 1985 playoffs.
The switch-hitting Smith, who had never hit a home run left-handed until his ninth-inning game-winner off Niedenfuer--which turned out to be a mere prologue to Jack Clark's pennant-winning blast off the same forlorn reliever two days later--homered off Tim Crews in the seventh inning to add a final flourish to the Cardinals' win Friday.
Guerrero, meanwhile, doubled and scored in the Cardinals' four-run fourth and added a single before leaving the game limping in the seventh. Guerrero twisted his left knee slightly while getting out of the way of a Tim Leary fastball, but it's doubtful that his knee aches any more than his heart apparently does.
Guerrero, who left Busch Stadium before the end of the game, which was delayed by an 88-minute electrical storm, spent the spring telling whoever would listen how hurt he had been by the Dodgers.
Lasorda's clubhouse lacked discipline, Guerrero charged, and as for General Manager Fred Claire--the man who shipped Guerrero to St. Louis last August for pitcher John Tudor--well, he wouldn't even know which hand to put a glove on, according to Guerrero.
If Guerrero regretted any of his words, which stung Lasorda deeply and which Claire publicly laughed off--he didn't show it Friday. He had nothing to say to Lasorda on Friday.
"I've treated him like a son," Lasorda said, echoing a familiar refrain. "I'm very, very disappointed."
There's little doubt, even though he didn't stick around to say so, that Guerrero found it very, very satisfying to dish out a little payback to the team that voted him only a half-share of their World Series winnings last season.
"I don't know if he had extra incentive," said teammate Smith. "Pete is a very competitive person, anyway. Sometimes when he gets keyed up, he doesn't do as well.
"But for the first time in a week, he relaxed a little bit and hit the way he's capable of hitting. I'm sure he's like any player who faces his ex-team, he wants to do well."
St. Louis Manager Whitey Herzog saw a hint of what was coming before the game.
"He didn't do anything tonight that he hasn't been doing for us," Herzog said, "but he hit the ball harder in batting practice tonight than I've seen him hit all this year. He really smoked the ball."
Tom Brunansky, whose two-run triple was the crowning blow off Leary in the fourth, also sensed that Guerrero was primed to do the Dodgers some damage Friday.
"I'm sure he definitely felt it," Brunansky said. "When you've been traded, you want to go out there and play well, show that you're still an impact player."
The Dodgers might have won a pennant in 1985 except for Smith, who had gone 3,009 professional at-bats without hitting a home run left-handed before getting one off Niedenfuer.
"How did I know you were going to ask me about that?" said Smith, whose home run off Crews gives him a total of three left-handed, the other coming against Chicago's Greg Maddux last June 14.
But even Smith acknowledged that the playoff home run had a lasting impact on his career.
"It was a big time in my life," he said. "Considering the timing was so crucial, to happen in the playoffs like that does nothing but build momentum. You can't forget moments like that.
"After that home run, people looked at me as much more than just a defensive player. It brought a lot of awareness to people."
Needless to say, it's a moment Lasorda would prefer to forget.
"Come on, man, that was in 1985," Lasorda said. "But I'll say one thing--he hit it good, didn't he?"
Smith's ball traveled farther than any hit lately by the Dodgers, who have yet to score more than three runs four games into this trip and have gone the last 39 innings without a home run.
Friday, the Dodgers got two runs in the fourth inning off Cardinal starter Don Heinkel, a minor league free agent whose days in St. Louis might end Sunday when Joe Magrane comes off the disabled list.
A single by Mike Davis, a double by Eddie Murray, a wild pitch, and Mike Marshall's sacrifice fly accounted for the two runs. In the sixth, Marshall singled and Mike Scioscia doubled him home for the Dodgers' only other run.
Kirk Gibson, who hasn't started since he went five innings Tuesday against Chicago, sat out again Friday and has started in just three of the last 11 games. Lasorda continues to insist, however, that he has no plans to put his injured left fielder on the disabled list.
"If a game was on the line, I could use him," Lasorda said.
Any plans to use him this afternoon?
"I don't know," the manager said. "We'll have to evaluate it then."
While Guerrero ranks among the league leaders in RBIs with 18, it may be July, if then, before the Dodgers can use Tudor, who is recovering from elbow surgery. That's no reason to downgrade the trade, however, according to Herzog.
"They needed pitching at the time because of Fernando (Valenzuela)," said Herzog, referring to Valenzuela's shoulder problems. "John won a few games for them, what the hell.
"Hindsight is always easier than foresight. I'll tell you one thing: He's a tough son-of-a-gun. And he could pitch. One of the best I've ever seen."
And Herzog will tell you one other thing, too, about Guerrero, which hardly needed to be said Friday: "That son-of-a-gun can hit, can't he? We're lucky to get a player like that."