On a day he will never forget, the only thing not working for Dodger rookie pitcher Jim Neidlinger was his memory.
After the Dodger rookie got his first major league victory Sunday, 7-3 over the Atlanta Braves, he was asked the whereabouts of the game ball.
"Good question," Neidlinger said, making a quick search of his locker. "I guess there is no ball. I came in to put on ice and . . . I guess I don't know where it is."
He shrugged. After seven minor league seasons, the victory was worth more than any memento.
"A game like this, I'll always remember it whether I get a ball or not," he said. "Everybody who ever plays baseball dreams of a day like this. I've been dreaming about it since I was 8 years old."
Backed by three runs in the first inning and four more in the third, Neidlinger simply threw strikes, walked none and watched Dodger fielders take care of the rest.
He had pitched better in his two previous starts since being recalled from triple-A Albuquerque July 30. He gave up seven hits, including a two-run homer by Ron Gant in the sixth. But this was the game that counted.
"It's one of those things where I feel just real weird . . . no, not weird . . . but just funny about the success I'm having," said Neidlinger, 25, who improved to 1-1 with a 1.31 earned-run average. "I mean, no rookie comes in here and thinks he can have three good starts in a row."
After reliever Ray Searage relieved Neidlinger and gave up his first run in his past nine appearances in the eighth inning, Jim Gott was summoned with two men on base and two out in the eighth. He struck out pinch-hitter Francisco Cabrera, then pitched a scoreless ninth for his second save in two days after going nearly two years without one.
Gott also earned an unofficial save. As Neidlinger was fastening the top button on his shirt and preparing to leave the clubhouse, Gott walked over and handed him a baseball. The game ball.
"I thought you might like this," Gott said.
Even though the National League West-leading Cincinnati Reds beat San Francisco, keeping the Dodgers seven games out of first place, the Dodgers pulled within 1 1/2 games of the second-place Giants.
The Dodgers have 13 victories--six on the road--in their last 20 games. They have won six of seven against last-place Atlanta.
"All I want to do is keep us going in the way we are going," said Hubie Brooks, who hit a three-run home run in the fourth inning against Tom Glavine, who gave up seven runs in four innings.
Glavine was undefeated against the Dodgers in four starts last season while not giving up an earned run. But it took him 43 pitches spanning 23 minutes to finish the first inning.
Eddie Murray, who had two hits and two runs batted in, hit a 2-and-2 pitch for a run-scoring single, and Rick Dempsey hit a two-run double on another 2-and-2 pitch.
That left it to Neidlinger who, after being supported with one run in his first two starts, was oddly worried.
"Everybody wants a big lead, but it's harder to pitch with a big lead," Neidlinger said. "You really have to bear down harder and not let yourself relax."
Seven innings later, the Dodgers were relaxing after feeling they have finally found a fifth starting pitcher, which they have lacked since Orel Hershiser underwent shoulder surgery April 27.
Neidlinger's victory was only the second this season by a Hershiser replacement. Before Neidlinger, the Dodgers had used four No. 5 pitchers who had gone 1-7 with a 7.91 earned-run average in 13 starts.
Eddie Murray improved his average to .319 with 68 runs batted in. In his last 22 games, Murray is batting .414 with six homers and 26 RBIs. . . . Kirk Gibson's seven-game hitting streak ended. He went hitless in four at-bats. . . . Hubie Brooks' home run was his 14th, equaling his output in three of the last four seasons. He has 61 RBIs, only nine fewer than his total last season. His .270 average is his highest since April 18.
Pitcher Dave Walsh is the third consecutive Dodger recalled from the minor leagues who began his career with a different organization. In two of the three games here this weekend, the Dodgers' entire starting lineup consisted of players who began their careers with a different organization. . . . John Wetteland, who the Dodgers hoped could be their fifth starter by the end of the season, gave up nine runs in two-thirds of an inning for Albuquerque against Phoenix Friday.
Dale Murphy, former Atlanta star traded to Philadelphia last week, spent $4,496.64 to publish an advertisement in Sunday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution in which he thanked the fans. . . . Jim Vatcher, a rookie from Cal State Northridge acquired by the Braves in the Murphy deal, got his first hit as a Brave in the eighth inning. He joined the team Friday, only to discover that he had been given Murphy's locker. "Oh no, please don't do that," he said. Some thought Murphy's locker would be converted into a sort of shrine, as was Hank Aaron's locker.