They had earned a master's in misery on their last trip, returning to Dodger Stadium with a 1-7 report card that could have been worse if a game in New York had not been rained out.
So they decided that a new attitude was needed: Learn to think only positively, Psychology 101.
Given a chance to put that lesson to a test immediately, the Dodgers overcame a three-run deficit against a pitcher seemingly in control and rallied to beat the Chicago Cubs, 4-3, in the opener of an eight-game trip. Kal Daniels' three-run home run provided a victory for pitcher Tim Belcher.
Said Mickey Hatcher: "I know that on the last trip, we had the feeling that something bad was going to happen every time we went on the field. We have to take the negative and turn it into positive."
Is a 3-0 deficit in the eighth inning negative enough? That's where the Dodgers stood against Mike Harkey, the former Cal State Fullerton star who in one stretch retired 12 consecutive batters, only three of whom managed to get the ball out of the infield.
Harkey had given up a single to Chris Gwynn in the first inning, a single to Mike Scioscia in the second, a walk, and a double by Lenny Harris--that being the only time a Dodger advanced as far as second base. When the eighth came, Harkey wasn't exactly getting bombed. Dissected is more like it.
After Alfredo Griffin opened the inning with a groundout, Hatcher, pinch-hitting for Belcher, singled. Harris followed with an infield hit, actually a squibber down the line that third baseman Luis Salazar held, thinking the ball was foul and not realizing his mistake until Harris had reached first base. Stan Javier added a sinking line drive to left field that Doug Dascenzo trapped for a single, Hatcher scoring.
Harkey got Eddie Murray to hit back to the box, but Harkey was done. Cub Manager Don Zimmer brought in Paul Assenmacher, who was sent out almost as quickly.
Assenmacher's first assignment was Daniels, whose three-run blast to left-center was his fourth homer in nine games.
Next up was Scioscia, who singled to right field. Zimmer replaced Assenmacher with Bill Long, who gave up another hit to Mike Sharperson, then ended the Dodger rally by striking out Juan Samuel.
Belcher helped the Dodgers get that far with a solid outing of his own. He served up a first-inning solo home run to Dave Clark, but had only one bad inning, the sixth, before being lifted for the pinch-hitter after seven innings. Still, Domingo Ramos' two-run single had been enough to send out Belcher, trailing, 3-0.
There was a positive aspect to this, though. Normally a power pitcher who uses 90% to 95% fastballs, Belcher has been teaching himself the art of finesse pitching. It's not by choice: The good hard stuff has abandoned him since his May 1 outing against Pittsburgh.
Until it comes back--he doesn't consider it an if proposition--Belcher has learned to depend more on his curve or slider or split-finger change. The last two starts, both victories, it has been 75% to 80% fastballs.
"For a power pitcher, who goes out there relying on his fastball, to not have it is like going out there naked," said Belcher, who blames the shortened spring training and throwing too many innings too soon into the season.
"But the fact is, I'm still keeping my team in games and getting some wins without the real good fastball. So that's still encouraging."
With the victory, he improved to 4-3. The six-hit inning that gave the Dodgers the lead came before his reliever, Pat Perry, became the pitcher of record.
"You get the hook, and get a win with one swing," Belcher said, referring to Daniels' home run. "I think that's the first time I've ever gotten a win in the clubhouse in the major leagues."
Perry, just off the disabled list after shoulder surgery, was joined by Jay Howell and Mike Hartley in protecting the 4-3 lead into the ninth, although Hartley left after surrendering a walk to Salazar and a single to Ramos. From there, Don Aase got the final three outs and his third save when Marvell Wynne ended the game by grounding out to Sharperson at first base.
And school was out.
For the first time this season, Hubie Brooks did not start, after the Dodgers announced that he was bothered by shin splints in his right leg. Chris Gwynn opened in right field. First baseman Eddie Murray, who injured his left hamstring in New York during the last trip and apparently aggravated it during Tuesday's loss to the Mets at Dodger Stadium, appeared as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning. In Murray's absence, Mike Sharperson got his first career start at first base. . . . Pitcher John Wetteland, who has the flu, stayed at the team's hotel. He had missed his scheduled start Tuesday because of the illness but pitched an inning of relief.
Chicago's Domingo Ramos, who came in batting .195, went four for four with two runs batted in. "Was that Domingo Ramos?" Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda asked later. "I thought that was Lou Boudreau." . . . Mike Harkey tied a National League record by becoming the third pitcher to record three putouts in an inning. The two others, Rick Reuschel in 1985 and Ed Lynch in '86, also did it while with the Cubs. Harkey's turn came in the fourth inning, all on grounders to first base, with Mark Grace getting the assists.
Lasorda, on Tim Belcher's quest to regain his fastball: "He threw some balls good today that shows he's coming back--not with a great deal of consistency--but he showed some of the fastball like last year. It'll be back." . . . Fernando Valenzuela (3-3) will pitch for the Dodgers today against Les Lancaster (3-1) in the closer of the two-game set.