The score was tied, 4-4, the bases were loaded and there was one out in the bottom of the ninth Wednesday when Dodger closer Todd Worrell started feeling pain on his left side, but he kept pitching. On a full count to the Montreal Expos' Lou Frazier, Worrell threw a fastball that was fouled off and left him clutching his side.
Dodger trainer Charlie Strasser ran to the mound, then watched Worrell throw a warm-up pitch, which sailed to the right and all the way to the backstop. Worrell walked off the mound and into the trainer's room, where the preliminary determination was that he suffered a strained rib-cage muscle. The seriousness of the injury will be better determined today.
With Worrell gone, Manager Tom Lasorda had no relievers left. He had used everyone but Roger McDowell, who was so sick with a stomach virus that he could barely stand up.
So Kevin Gross, who had at least played catch during batting practice, ran to the mound and took over the 3-2 count to Frazier. Gross struck him out, but Tim Spehr hit a single off the wall that gave the Expos a 5-4 victory at Olympic Stadium.
"It was like jumping out of an airplane and wondering if the parachute would open," Gross said. "They told me that if they needed somebody, it would be me. But when he pulled his rib, I said, 'Oh no.' It was a rush to be out there, it was like being in a World Series with the game on the line. I'm disappointed I gave the hit up, but to make that first pitch and strike out that guy was great."
Bob Broderick, the Expos' team physician, told Lasorda that he was not sure about the severity of Worrell's injury.
"The sons of guns are hard to clear up when they are bad," said Broderick, who added that a bad sprain could keep a player out up to three weeks.
This was not the condition the Dodgers wanted to be in at the start of a four-game series against the Giants beginning tonight in San Francisco. They will arrive with a 2-4 record on their trip and probably without their closer, who, along with Darren Dreifort, had been the only consistent pitcher in the bullpen.
Worrell, who spent most of last season sidelined because of several injuries, had a 2-1 record with two saves and a 1.74 earned-run average in nine appearances before Wednesday's game. Now he can't even twist his upper body to the left.
"Sometime rib-cage injuries don't heal fast, but I have never had one," said Worrell, who took the loss. "How long or how short it will be they won't know until they pinpoint what I've got for sure.
"I don't think it's fair to compare what happens in one year with what happened in the past. You can't anticipate injuries. So I will just pray for a miracle and see what happens."
Worrell's injury came long after starter Tom Candiotti had left the game, and he wasn't happy about his departure, either. He gave up two runs in 4 2/3 innings, then was replaced by Gary Wayne, the first of six relievers, after the Expos scored their second run to tie the score.
"I didn't want to come out, but it's kind of hard to argue about it when the coach comes out twice in one inning," Candiotti said. "I don't know why they took me out."
Pitching coach Ron Perranoski said Candiotti, whose knuckleball has been affected because of a cracked fingernail, wasn't throwing many knuckleballs and Lasorda thought it was best to take him out.
But the parade of relievers could not contain the Expos. And against starter Kirk Rueter, who left the game after five innings because of a groin strain suffered legging out a single, and four relievers, the Dodgers managed only five hits.
Even Dreifort was not exempt. With the Dodgers ahead, 3-2, in the seventh, the Expos scored two runs against Dreifort and Omar Daal to take a 4-3 lead.
Mike Piazza, who was taking the day off, had a pinch-hit double leading off the eighth. Jose Offerman's two-out single tied the score, and he went to third on Moises Alou's error. Raul Mondesi's grounder to pitcher John Wetteland hit Wetteland's foot, but it bounced up and Wetteland threw out Mondesi to end the inning.
Jim Gott held the Expos in the eighth and Mel Rojas (2-0) retired the Dodgers in order in the ninth. Then against Worrell, who started the ninth inning, Marquis Grissom legged out a chopper to Tim Wallach and moved to third on a single to right by Randy Milligan. Worrell walked Alou to load the bases.
Worrell struck out Wil Cordero before he ran the count to 3 and 2 to Frazier and stopped pitching.
"At first I thought it was his arm," Lasorda said. "But when he took the practice pitch and I saw the ball go the way it did, it scared the hell out of me."