The moment the fly ball by Jack Clark hit the wall behind the left-field fence, Mike Hartley made a decision probably shared by Dodger teammates and supporters.
He decided he could no longer bear to watch.
Turning his back to home plate, Hartley stared into the sky. As Clark slowly rounded the bases behind Tony Gwynn and then stomped on home plate to give the San Diego Padres a 2-0 fourth-inning lead, Hartley continued to stare.
When Hartley finally turned to face home plate, it was as if the future of the Dodgers had turned as dark as that sky. The Cincinnati Reds had already defeated Houston, and soon the Dodgers would lose to Bruce Hurst's five-hitter, 4-0, before 13,758 at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
What was once a single vision toward first place has become a backward glance toward third. Besides falling seven games behind the National League West-leading Reds with 20 games remaining, the Dodgers also fell into a second-place tie with victorious San Francisco,
If the Reds go 11-11 in their final games, the Dodgers must go 17-3 to tie them.
Tim Crews put the Dodgers' chances into simpler terms.
"The only possible way is for us to win here (today), then sweep them in Cincinnati," he said. "Anything other than that, and I don't see anything happening."
Crews paused. "But if we do sweep them and get three games back, you never know," he said. "Panic could set in."
The Dodgers, who lost for the sixth time in their last nine games including two consecutive games at San Diego, are not playing as if panicked. Rather, it is as if they calmly awoke after last weekend's two emotional victories over the Reds and realized that they have never been sound enough to win a championship.
On Tuesday they lost with a starting pitcher who is actually a reliever and with reserves playing first base and center field because of injuries to starters. In Monday's loss, they played with a backup catcher and two backup outfielders. In both games, they used relief pitchers recently recalled from the minor leagues.
"I don't know what it is, but they just looked flat to me the last two days," Gwynn said.
The Dodgers were stifled not just by Hurst, but by a poor encore to the best game of rookie pitcher Hartley's pro career.
Five days after pitching a three-hit shutout against Atlanta, he did not last past the fifth inning, giving up four runs and five hits in 4 2/3 innings. He walked two, both of whom scored, and threw a wild pitch that also led to a run.
Hartley tried so hard, he strained his left side on his final pitch of the game. Yet in two of his last three starts, Hartley has not lasted more than five innings and now is 6-3 with a 2.95 earned-run average.
"I felt good, but I was on and off," Hartley said. "Right now, all we can do is scratch or claw or whatever."
The Dodgers were shut out for only the fourth time since the All-Star break, the eighth time this season. But then, they haven't had a stretch of games this bad since the break.
They were forced to play without Eddie Murray, who was sidelined because of a sore left hand, and Kal Daniels, who is still bothered by a strained muscle in his side. Jose Offerman started at shortstop in place Alfredo Griffin, who has six hits in his last 49 at-bats and is struggling again in the field.
Kirk Gibson, the one Dodger slugger who was healthy, struck out three times and went hitless in four at-bats, making him hitless in his last 24.
Said Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda: "You know Eddie's wrist had to be killing him, or he would be in there . . . and you know Kal has been hurting . . . and Gibby just can't seem to buy a hit . . . so what can you do? It's just a damn shame that we win two out of three against the Reds and then come down here and do this. A damn shame."
Surgeons removed a small piece of torn cartilage from Tim Belcher's right shoulder, found no further damage and said chances are good that Belcher will be ready for spring training in 1991. "The news is certainly good," said Fred Claire, Dodger vice president. "I talked to Tim and I know he is very relieved." . . . Ray Searage was activated from the disabled list, where he had been since Aug. 18 because of a sore left elbow.
Although it was originally announced that Eddie Murray suffered an injured wrist while scooping a ball out of the dirt Sept. 6, apparently Murray's wrist had been sore before that, and he aggravated it on the play. . . . Kal Daniels said doctors told him that only complete rest would cure his strained left side, something which he will not get until after the season.
Claire said that "three or four" more players from triple-A Albuquerque will be joining the Dodgers when they finish their Pacific Coast League finals series against Edmonton, which could be as soon as tonight. Possible recalls include pitcher John Wetteland, catcher Carlos Hernandez and third baseman Dave Hansen. . . . Left-handed relief pitcher Pat Perry, who has not been in a game since June 2, said he has received indications that he might not be kept on the 40-man roster, meaning he would become a free agent.