It was neither the pitching of Rick Sutcliffe nor the four runs batted in by Ray Lankford that beat the Dodgers, 4-2, Wednesday night. It wasn't a lack of Dodger offense or poor pitching that sent the fireworks flaring after the St. Louis Cardinals won for the first time at home this season.
The Dodger pitching wasn't good, but even with that, the team had its chances. No, in the Dodgers' fifth loss in eight games, what they had here at Busch Stadium was merely a failure to communicate, and it was costly.
"As bad as Ramon (Martinez) was with his control, he still could have been out of it and won, 2-1," Manager Tom Lasorda said. "It was a big game for us, it could have put us to .500 and one game out. It was a big game."
The Dodgers got five hits in the first two innings and led, 2-0. But in the second, the team suffered its first communication breakdown after loading the bases with one out, and failed to score more.
Tim Wallach led off with a single, and Henry Rodriguez, who tied a team record with three doubles in the game, Raul Mondesi and Jose Offerman followed with consecutive hits.
Martinez then lined to Bernard Gilkey in left and Delino DeShields walked to load the bases. Then, Brett Butler hit an opposite-field flare that Gilkey caught midway up the left-field line, and third base coach Joe Amalfitano sent the speedy Mondesi home.
But when Mondesi approached the plate, he didn't know where the ball was, and, instead of sliding, he tried to score standing up. "There was nobody there to tell me what to do," he said.
Gilkey made a good throw to catcher Erik Pappas, who dived for the ball and tagged Mondesi as his foot was landing on the plate. It was a close call by plate umpire Jerry Layne, and the replay appeared to indicate Mondesi was safe, but Lasorda didn't argue, saying later, "What good would it do?"
Lasorda said Mondesi was supposed to get his signal from his teammate in the on-deck circle, Mike Piazza. And Piazza said he yelled at Mondesi to slide, but was too far away.
"I figured he could make up his mind in that situation," said Piazza, who was hitless in three at-bats. "Nine times out of 10, I'm there, and when I say 'Stand Up' they slide and when I say 'Slide' they stand up. But I should have been there and (Lasorda) talked to me about it. There is no excuse, but the guy can run like hell. And with the way my luck has been going, I would tell him to slide and he would probably break his ankle."
The double play got Sutcliffe (1-0) out of the inning, and he said later it was the turning point. "It could have been a big inning and took the game out of our hands," said Sutcliffe, who was pitching in his first National League game in two seasons. "But it was a huge lift to me, like somebody grabbed a tire pump and filled me up again."
After that, the Dodgers couldn't do much of anything.
In the fourth, Mondesi took a called third strike, failing to advance Rodriguez, who would have scored on a subsequent groundout by Offerman. In the sixth, Mondesi grounded to first for the last out, stranding Rodriguez again.
Meanwhile, Martinez (0-2) struggled. There is only so long a pitcher can get away with walks, and Martinez beat the odds longer than expected.
Through the first three innings, he walked five batters--six total in his 5 2/3 innings--but escaped unscathed. But in the fourth, after Mark Whiten's leadoff blooper to center dropped between a stunned DeShields and Butler for a double, Martinez walked Pappas, and it stung him. With runners on first and second and one out, Sutcliffe laid down a perfect bunt to advance the runners before Lankford drove a grounder up the middle to put the Cardinals ahead, 3-2.
The Cardinals' had scored in the third when Lankford, who also had a run-scoring single in the sixth, Homered deep into the center-field seats against Martinez.
Whiten's bloop double was due to another communication problem, this time by veterans. Butler and DeShields have a system in which if Butler doesn't call for the ball, DeShields knows it is his to field.
"It was my mistake, I broke back on the ball and yelled, 'Get it, Delino, I can't get it," Butler said. "Jody Reed used to want me to tell him if I was getting to a ball. But Delino and I have used this system all spring, and I shouldn't have said anything."
DeShields thought Butler said "I got it."
And for the Dodgers, it all translated to, "We lost it."