It happens every fall. Through the dust of a lost season a spotless young pitcher appears, making his major league debut with fresh fastballs and hopes. A couple of innings and raised eyebrows later, nobody can wait for spring.
This happened to the Dodgers' Mike Munoz Wednesday night. Sort of.
In his first big league appearance, he took the Riverfront Stadium mound in the eighth inning with the Dodgers trailing the Cincinnati Reds, 8-5.
Rookie Jeff Richardson stepped up. Munoz reared back and threw. Richardson swung. There was a loud crack.
Gone. A home run. On Munoz's first major league pitch.
The ball disappeared over the left-field fence, Richardson rounded the bases, the crowd of 14,448 stood and cheered. Then Munoz did an interesting thing. He did not collapse. He did not cry.
He kind of smiled.
"I thought, man, it's kind of neat to hear all these people," he said. "I've never heard that kind of cheering before."
Munoz then survived the rest of his debut, retiring the Reds without allowing another run as the Dodgers fell, 9-5.
It was their second straight loss, with a second straight blown lead (5-3 in the sixth), again due to a poor performance by their middle relievers--loser Ray Searage and Mike Morgan, who allowed three runs in 1 2/3 innings.
With this pattern having grown old two months ago, the Dodgers preferred to talk about something new and unusual--Munoz.
"When he came into the dugout after the inning, I shook his hand and congratulated him for hanging in there," fellow rookie Darrin Fletcher said. "He looked at me and sort of smirked. He's the kind of pitcher, this won't get him down."
The left-handed Munoz, recalled from triple-A Albuquerque Friday, had already proven that.
After the homer, he threw a quick strike to Luis Quinones before retiring him on a fly out. He fell behind, 3 and 0, to Paul O'Neill before coming back with three straight strikes. Then he allowed a single to left field by Ken Griffey, who was thrown out attempting to take second base.
And the Dodgers were impressed.
"After the home run, I turned to Tim Crews and said, 'This is the important part, what happens now,' " pitcher John Wetteland said. "And you saw what he did. He took the ball and went right back after the batters. Some guys would have collapsed. Some guys would have been too scared."
Munoz, 24, said he was helped by an interesting pep talk from catcher Mike Scioscia.
"After the home run, Scioscia ran out and was smiling," Munoz said. "He told me, 'Nice way to start a big league career. Now it's out of the way. So go after them.' "
Munoz said he was then helped by hearing the debut recollections of various pitchers in the dugout, particularly Jay Howell.
Recalled Howell: "I was with Cincinnati (in 1980), we were playing the Dodgers, we were down, 9-1, and on my first pitch . . . I hit Steve Garvey in the head. I thought, here I was, first pitch, and I killed a man. Tommy Lasorda ran out to me, and you can't print what he said. I thought there was going to be a fight."
Said Munoz: "After hearing that from Jay, you feel a little better. That was the first first-pitch homer I've ever allowed, but I'm sure it's not going to be the last. As well as you pitch, you're always going to have problems. You just have to deal with them.
"I've learned, you've got to have fun. That was the only problem with the home run--it kind of took away from the fun."
Munoz, former Bishop Amat High School and Cal Poly Pomona star who was 6-4 with a 3.08 ERA and six saves in 60 Albuquerque appearances, could be in the Dodger bullpen next season. And he could also take heart Wednesday that he wasn't the only Dodger pitcher who allowed a big home run.
Bringing a streak of 24 scoreless innings into the game, Tim Belcher allowed a homer to his second batter, Luis Quinones. He survived to lead, 5-3, in the sixth before loading the bases with a couple of walks and a Mariano Duncan single.
In came struggling left-hander Searage, who yielded a two-run single to pinch-hitter Barry Larkin to tie the game. Searage gave up a Griffey double and a walk to start the seventh; then Morgan entered and allowed a two-run, game-winning double to rookie Joe Oliver.
Mike Marshall missed Wednesday's game with a stiff back, partially caused by the Dodgers' two long plane trips in the last four days. Of the 112 games for which Marshall has been eligible so far this year (when not on the disabled list), he has played in 95. . . . Mike Davis met with Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda before Wednesday's game to tell him he was ready to pinch-hit. Davis was promptly activated from the disabled list, where he has been since July 6 due to arthroscopic surgery on both knees. "I still can't play the outfield, but I can sure hit, and that's enough," said Davis, batting .248 with five homers and 18 RBIs in 56 games.
Orel Hershiser will miss both games of the Cincinnati series, as he flew home to Los Angeles Wednesday to prepare for Friday night's start in San Diego. Dodger pitchers normally fly ahead of the team a day before they are scheduled to pitch in another city. . . . The Riverfront Stadium scoreboard listed Mike Devereaux as the Dodger starting right fielder Wednesday. The Dodgers didn't appreciate the mistake, as Devereaux was traded to Baltimore this winter, where he has become the type of center fielder the Dodgers could use.
The scene behind the batting cage before Wednesday's game was reminiscent of a family reunion, as ex-Dodgers Tim Leary and Mariano Duncan visited with their former teammates, while ex-Reds Kal Daniels and Lenny Harris did the same. "Do I miss the Dodgers? No way man," said Duncan, who is batting .263. "If you know what happened there, you know that's not a good question. I have so much fun here because I can play. With (Willie) Randolph and (Alfredo) Griffin over there, I may never play."
Duncan is already showing the Reds his desire by playing shortstop with a pulled left hamstring. He was in the middle of the action Wednesday, as usual. He had a second-inning error that led to two Dodger runs, followed by a seventh-inning RBI single that helped clinch the Reds' win. Then afterward, despite his less-than-perfect command of English, he served as an interpreter for winning rookie pitcher Rosario Rodriguez.
Leary, 2-6 with a 4.61 ERA for the Reds, was more stoic about the July 18 trade. "I was upset for about an hour but then I realized, as long as I'm starting somewhere, it's fine," said Leary, who has been pitching with a strained ligament in the middle finger of his right hand. "After I won 17 games last year and got put in the bullpen for the postseason, I realized, how secure is my job? I learned over there to never take anything for granted." Leary said he is still not sure why he was removed from the Dodger rotation at the All-Star break despite a 3.18 ERA in 17 starts. "It's along the same lines of, why did they put Tim Belcher in the bullpen earlier, and what is Mike Morgan doing in the bullpen now?" Leary said. "You'll have to ask the manager. I just know I'm not the kind who can easily adjust to the bullpen."