SAN DIEGO — Here in Fernando Valenzuela's fifth season, the Dodgers' minds have not changed. They still think he's a great human being, which is great because he has had every excuse not to be.
For months now--for a year, in fact--the Dodgers have treated Fernando the Great very disrespectfully, failing to score many runs for him. He might have groused about it, asking his teammates to please visit the batting cage more often, but he has not done so.
Instead, he has told pitching coach Ron Perranoski: "I should hit home run." And this is just his way of removing blame from his teammates.
Naturally, his teammates felt bad about this, and so it was with great pleasure that they gave him a four-run lead in the first inning Thursday against San Diego. Two runs were unearned, but they took them, anyway.
Valenzuela went out to the mound with a smile, rolling his eyeballs for no reason when he pitched, and ended up throwing a two-hitter.
Dodgers 5, Padres 0.
Afterward, reporters tried to get him to say that the previous lack of support had bothered him, but he would not say it. He sat in the Dodger training room, his remarkable left arm freezing in ice, saying through an interpreter: "It is part of the game. I just try to do my best every time. Sometimes you have help, sometimes you don't. This time, I had five runs. Next time, I hope it may be the same."
At this point, Fernando Jr., 2, threw down his tennis ball and began to bawl, crying for mommy. Fernando sent him away then and was asked what had upset his young son.
"Because the questions are so bad, that's why," Valenzuela said, winking.
And, in a way, these had been bad questions, for Valenzuela apparently has not been fazed by this poor Dodger offense, by bats that had given him just two runs in two games before Thursday, bats that gave him 13 one-run losses in 1984. No wonder the Dodgers think he's great.
"He'd never put himself ahead of the team," Manager Tom Lasorda said. "He never complained, never alibied. He said he'd try his best. That's what makes him a remarkable guy. He's got heart."
And he's got a decent screwball, although few people actually see it clearly. That pitch was made even more effective when the Dodgers scored those first-inning runs, only because Padre hitters were kept guessing.
For instance, Tony Gwynn was one of two Padre hitters who got hits in this game, and he was totally confused.
In the first, Valenzuela threw him fastball, fastball, fastball, and Gwynn connected, lining a single to right. In the third, Valenzuela again threw fastball, fastball, fastball, and Gwynn bounced out to the shortstop.
Then, in the sixth, Gwynn expected fastball, fastball, fastball and saw a screwball on the first pitch. He bounced out weakly to first baseman Sid Bream.
"You can't guess with him," Gwynn said.
Pinch-hitter Kurt Bevacqua had the only other hit, in the eighth inning, and that was a heavy ground ball that got by shortstop Dave Anderson.
Said Bevacqua: "When he gets a lead like that, you think he'll stick with his out pitch, the screwball. But he's smart enough to know that if he throws his fastball, too, he can throw it by people."
So he threw it by people. He kept 19 straight batters from hitting the ball out of the infield, and he struck out six of nine batters in one stretch. Then, in the top of the ninth, he tried bunting his way on base for no apparent reason. No wonder the Dodgers think he's great.
Not that it really mattered, but the Padres helped Valenzuela, too. In the first at-bat, Mariano Duncan grounded to shortstop Garry Templeton, who tried throwing to first base before he caught the ball, and consequently never caught it. Error, Templeton.
Then, as Padre starter and loser Mark Thurmond was walking Bill Russell, Duncan tried stealing second. Catcher Terry Kennedy's throw hit Duncan and bounded into center, Duncan advancing to third. Error, Kennedy.
After Russell and Bream had walked, the bases were loaded, no outs.
Pedro Guerrero lined out to third, but then Mike Marshall blooped a ball into shallow center, a ball that got lost in the daylight and fell among left fielder Carmelo Martinez, center fielder Kevin McReynolds and shortstop Templeton. Duncan scored.
And the ball had indeed been lost in the light here. The Padres prefer to play at night because glare from the stands sometimes affects hitters and outfielders.
"It really was tough to see the first couple of innings," said Marshall, who plays outfield for the Dodgers.
So, instead of two outs, it was 1-0 with the bases still loaded. Candy Maldonado doubled past Steve Garvey at first, and two more runs scored. Mike Scioscia then added an RBI on a sacrifice fly.
At this point, Padre fans booed, for the first time all season, only because the Dodger defense, not the Padre defense, was supposed to be horrid.