The Dodgers insist there’s no reason to panic. Sure, it’s embarrassing to be swept by the New York Mets, but they’ve gone through plenty of humbling stretches this season.
Yet, as they confessed, they were as stunned as everyone else Sunday afternoon to see Hideo Nomo join them in their four-game slump that dropped them into a first-place tie with the Colorado Rockies.
Nomo lost to the Mets, 5-3, before a paid crowd of 33,668 at Shea Stadium, surprising his teammates by:
--walking the opposing pitcher for the first time since July 5, on four pitches no less.
--yielding a three-run homer to Jose Vizcaino, only his second of the season, in the third inning.
--making it back-to-back homers for the Mets when Carl Everett followed with a homer.
--giving up Butch Huskey’s first career home run in the seventh inning.
--losing for the second time in three starts despite striking out 13 and yielding six hits in seven innings.
Nomo (10-4) described his outing as: “the worst.”
Said Met Manager Dallas Green: “I guess we put a crimp in Nomomania, didn’t we?”
Nomo said he feels fine, says there is no pain in the elbow, but his fastball didn’t have its usual zip. Scouts said he rarely reached 90 m.p.h. on the speed gun, and every hit obtained by the Mets was on a fastball.
“I don’t think he had his best fastball,” Everett said. “Even though it’s the first time I saw him, I expected him to throw 90-91 m.p.h. That never happened.
“If you noticed, all of our hits came on fastballs.
“That’s not a coincidence.”
The Dodgers say Nomo’s performance was nothing more than a bad outing. Well, actually, just a bad inning. Even Koufax and Drysdale lost games once in a while.
“There are going to be times when he runs into a little trouble,” said Dodger first baseman Eric Karros, who went hitless in 12 at-bats during the series. “I mean, he is human.
“You can’t expect him to flirt with a no-hitter every time. He just set that standard for himself. You expect it. But sometimes, you just don’t have it.”
Said Dave Wallace, Dodger pitching coach: “I just think it’s a case where everybody in the league gets so geared up for this guy. Every time this guy pitches, everybody wants to beat him so bad. He’ll be fine.”
Still, these were the Mets. The radio talk shows in New York rarely mentioned the possibility of the Mets beating Nomo, focusing instead on whether he could throw a no-hitter.
This is why the Mets drew their largest crowd since April 30, when they had a $1 ticket promotion. Throngs were waiting outside the ticket window four hours before game time. Certainly, more people were rooting for Nomo than the Mets.
The way Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda figured it, there was no better time to call a team meeting. He told his players to relax. Don’t be nervous about a pennant stretch. Go out and have fun.
“Just because Nomo’s pitching,” said Chad Fonville, starting in left field for the first time in his professional career, “you can’t just sit back. Everyone’s going to have games like that once in a while.
“I just can’t believe it happened against these guys. We didn’t play good ball. You don’t score runs, you don’t win. It doesn’t matter who’s pitching.”
The Dodgers (56-51) provided Nomo a run in the second inning when Raul Mondesi scored on Dave Hansen’s ground ball, but the Mets scored four runs in the third off Nomo, and the Dodgers never recovered.
It began with one out when Nomo walked rookie starter Jason Isringhausen on four pitches. He then walked Joe Orsulak. He fell behind 1 and 0 to Vizcaino, and Wallace ran to the mound to talk.
Nomo took a deep breath, threw a fastball, and watched Vizcaino hit it 388 feet, over the right-field fence. Nomo fell behind again, 2-0, to Everett, and paid the price when Everett hit a homer into the foul-pole netting.
Nomo, who had gone six consecutive starts at one point without yielding a home run, now had given up two homers in four pitches. Nomo had given up two homers in a game twice this season, and the only time he gave up three homers was at Coors Field in Denver.
Said Fred Claire, Dodger executive vice president: “There’s not any pitcher that’s perfect. I think he threw the ball well. There’s no evidence of any [elbow] problem at all. When a guy strikes out 13, that’s the evidence there’s no problem.”
The trouble, however, is when your name is Hideo Nomo, nothing short of perfection seems good enough.
“If the expectation is perfection,” Claire said, “that’s more than can be obtained.”