Dodgers Give Ground, Lose to Braves, 9-5 : Baseball: After gaining in Cincinnati, they take a slide by splitting four games in Atlanta, and head for New York.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Dodgers' inaugural Rodney Dangerfield dress-alike contest was supposed to take place after the game Monday, not during it.

Someone apparently forgot to tell many of the players, who appeared embarrassingly campy in a 9-5 loss to the Atlanta Braves.

The loss cost the third-place Dodgers more than just a chance to take three of four games in an unfriendly stadium. It dropped them to eight games behind the first-place Cincinnati Reds. This was where they were when they entered Cincinnati and won two of three games there last week.

"We lost that ground, and now we've got to make it up again," Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda said. "We've got to try to cut the gap again."

There are easier places to gain that ground than New York's Shea Stadium, where the Dodgers traveled after the game to begin a four-game series today that spans just more than 48 hours. They will play a doubleheader today against the first-place Mets, followed by a night game Wednesday, then a day game Thursday.

The Mets are the only team they have yet to beat this year, losing all four games.

"This series will determine if we have a good trip, or even if we stay in the pennant race," Lenny Harris said. "But it's like, we get up for the big series, for some reason. Like in Cincinnati, you just see our attitude changing there, we were really ready to play.

"I think these guys know when to turn it back on. And we know it has to be now."

Monday's dress contest, a brainchild of reliever Jay Howell which featured 10 Dodgers wearing such items as plaid pants and ties with embroidered cavemen, drew many laughes in a postgame clubhouse.

This was after the Dodgers spent time considering a loss that, like their wardrobe, made little sense.

The loss was even more disheartening because of these events:

--Fernando Valenzuela, five days after a complete-game victory over the Reds, allowed seven runs and 10 hits in four innings. In his last 10 starts, he has pitched a no-hitter but allowed 10 hits four other times.

--The Dodger offense, which scored by the second inning on seven of 10 games on this trip, couldn't advance a man as far as third base until the sixth inning against John Smoltz.

Typical of their problems was a third-inning strikeout by Alfredo Griffin, on a pitch that hit his foot.

--Other than four hits and three runs batted in by Hubie Brooks, the Dodgers showed their most fire after the game, when Rick Dempsey argued a called third strike with home plate umpire Tom Hallion.

The umpire shouted back and, considering Hallion could not throw Dempsey out of a game that was over, the face-to-face argument could have gone on all night.

"He told me to swing the bat, but geez, I've been swinging at too many bad pitches lately," said Dempsey, who was finally pulled away by teammates. "I'm trying to to get more disciplined and he tells me to swing the bat?"

The Braves had no trouble swinging the bat against Valenzuela. He faced the Braves four starts ago in Dodger Stadium, and allowed seven runs and 10 hits in 6 1/3 innings in an 8-7 Dodger victory.

Monday's performance was worse. He fell to 9-10 while his earned-run average rose to 4.06 in what equaled his shortest outing of the year.

"Against some teams, sometime you can't do it," he said. "I felt my stuff was as good as it has been in a long time. Yet everything I throw, they hit. This has happened to me before."

The Braves scored four in the first inning, with the big blow being a three-run home run by rookie Dave Justice, his 15th and seventh in eight games.

The homer came after Eddie Murray made what appeared to be a diving catch of a potential double-play line drive by Jeff Treadway, the second Brave hitter. But Murray dropped the ball.

Somehow Lonnie Smith, who was caught between first and second base after he started the game with a single, managed to force Murray to throw to second base to force him out. Treadway was safe at first. After a double, an RBI grounder and walk to Jeff Blauser, Justice essentially ended the game.

"Fernando did not pitch well at all, that's about all I can say about that," Lasorda said. "I'll say that, and also that we could have gotten out of the first inning with a double play."

Smoltz allowed the Dodgers one run on six hits in seven innings. He caused his most commotion in the fourth inning, when he threw a pitch near Brooks' head in apparent retaliation for an inside pitch thrown to Justice by Valenzuela in the third inning.

Brooks glared at Smoltz, who was officially warned by Hallion. Two pitches later Brooks hit a line drive that nearly separated Smoltz from his head before going into center field. It was the first of his four hits.

"I got out of the way of the ball, no harm done," Brooks said. "I don't want to hurt anybody in this game. Maybe others want to hurt people, but I don't."

Dodger Notes

Mike Hartley says he will treat his first major league start in today's doubleheader in New York as if it is another relief appearance. Since his last start for Class-A Savannah in 1986, Hartley has made 196 consecutive relief appearances. "Since I'm not going to start until the second game, I'll probably spend the first game down in the bullpen, talking about the hitters like we always do," Hartley said. "Then I'll go out there in the second game and just try to go as long as I can. To be starting is kind of strange, when I think about it, but I'm just trying to treat it like another game."

Larry Himes, Chicago White Sox general manager, said he claimed Kirk Gibson on waivers last week, a move that blocked a potential trade of Gibson until after Sept. 1, when the postseason rosters are already set. . . . It appears that Don Aase and Pat Perry will continue to rehabilitate their injuries until they are needed in the Dodger bullpen, or until after Sept. 1.

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