In his first start since suggesting that the Dodgers might benefit from falling behind the Atlanta Braves, Tim Belcher prevented them from falling further behind Friday night as he shut out the Chicago Cubs on four hits, 2-0.
A Dodger Stadium crowd of 39,666 saw Belcher dispatch the Cubs on 98 pitches, striking out 10 and walking none, as he improved his record in this season of inconsistent support to 9-8 and kept the Dodgers two games behind the Braves in the National League West.
It was Belcher’s first shutout since July 21, 1990, his second complete game in 27 starts and the first for the Dodgers since July 30.
He had created a stir after his last start, in St. Louis, when he said the Dodgers seemed to need something to shake them up, and maybe it would happen if they fell behind the Braves, which had since become reality.
“I wasn’t saying that I hoped we’d lose, only that we needed something to shake us up,” he said Friday night. “I certainly don’t want to finish second, but we needed something to hang our hat on, something to get us going.
“Maybe this will be it. I certainly didn’t want to fall on my face (after his comments in St. Louis).
“Considering the time at which it came--both for the team and me--I’d say it was my best start of the season.”
Belcher retired the first 13 Cubs, faced only five baserunners and lowered his earned-run average to 2.54, the true barometer of his work during a season that has seen the Dodgers score 15 runs in his last eight starts.
This time, manager Tom Lasorda attempted to invigorate the offense by first holding a pregame meeting with his hitters and then replacing Joe Amalfitano in the third base coach’s box.
The results: Six hits against three Chicago pitchers, including starter Danny Jackson, who had totaled only 4 2/3 innings in his last two starts.
The Dodgers wasted a series of threats and scored only in the second on singles by Eddie Murray, Gary Carter and Jose Offerman, and in the seventh on a single by Mike Sharperson and a triple by Brett Butler.
“We’ve tried everything, but every game is a cliffhanger,” said Lasorda, who is likely to remain in the coach’s box as long as the Dodgers win.
“We just can’t get our offensive machine rolling. I told them, ‘You’re the guys who got us in first place and you’re the guys we’re depending on. Just go out and have fun.’ ”
Butler thought the Dodgers did, even though it was far from a laugher.
“I think we had a little more of that boyish enthusiasm,” he said, adding that Belcher’s determination in the wake of his recent comments might have contributed to it.
“He gave us a tremendous boost,” Butler said. “There’s been a lot of garbage going on about what he said, but everyone in the clubhouse knew what he meant.”
Fred Claire, executive vice president, thought he knew, but invited Belcher to drop by his office when the Dodgers returned to Los Angeles on Wednesday.
“No problem,” Claire said Friday night. “Tim’s a competitive player who was simply saying that the team needed something to shake it up. I’m sure he was as surprised by the reaction as anyone.”
Said Belcher: “I thought my comments were pretty general. I singled out the entire team, including myself. We just need to be more consistent in every area of the game.”
Butler provided the impetus as the Dodgers ended a three-game losing streak Friday night, but there may have been a breakthrough in another way as well.
Butler was credited with a diving catch of a Hector Villanueva line drive in the third inning, although he later acknowledged, when confronted by second base umpire Jerry Crawford, who made the call, that he had dropped it after hitting the ground.
“I told Jerry that he may have provided us with the type of break we need,” Butler said, smiling.