What started out as a fantasy now resembles a modern tale of despair, just another in an endless series of stories about a good man beaten down by the system.
Maybe John Irving could write it: "The World According to Fernando," in which a kid pitcher from Etchohuaquila crosses the border in search of fame and fortune. He mocks batters with his unhittable screwball while rolling his eyes at the gods, but discovers, to his horror, that being the best doesn't give a man control over his fate. Losing, in fact, becomes as inevitable as a broken promise.
Fiction, you say? Try telling that to Fernando Valenzuela, who gave up his first earned run of the season Sunday afternoon and lost, naturally, 1-0, to the San Diego Padres before 48,726 in Dodger Stadium.
On the same day that Valenzuela set a major league record for stinginess at the start of a season, he lost for the third time in five decisions when Tony Gwynn homered with one out in the ninth, the first earned run scored against Valenzuela in 42 innings and the Padres' second and last hit of the day.
Valenzuela's Dodger teammates, meanwhile, accomplished the singular feat of loading the bases in consecutive innings without scoring, Mike Scioscia lining into a double play on a squeeze try in the sixth, Al Oliver fouling to catcher Bruce Bochy in the seventh.
Afterward, Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda praised coach Joey Amalfitano for his prudence in holding up Valenzuela at third after Bill Russell's bloop single to left, the Dodgers' third straight hit with two out in the seventh.
What Lasorda failed to notice was that Amalfitano actually had waved Valenzuela home, and that Fernando had decided to stop on his own, which probably was the right decision.
"I thought Joey held him up," Lasorda said. "Why don't you go ask Joey?"
By that time, however, Amalfitano was out of the clubhouse and on his way home. That's not to be confused with the place few Dodgers are able to find when Valenzuela is pitching.
With other pitchers, such futility--the Dodgers, who left nine men on base, were shut out despite collecting nine hits and two walks--might be excused as happenstance. With Valenzuela, however, it has become a way of life. In his five starts, the Dodgers have scored a total of eight runs, and five of those came in one game.
That may be one reason Valenzuela acknowledged, with a wave of his glove, a standing ovation on his way back to the dugout after giving up Gwynn's home run, then, a moment later, flung that same glove, plus his cap, onto the bench in the Dodger dugout.
"He's got to be disgusted," said R.J. Reynolds, who was breaking for the plate when Scioscia popped his bunt into the glove of Padre pitcher Mark Thurmond, who then flipped to first to double up Mike Marshall.
"Granted, he holds up well when he's pitching, but somewhere inside, you can't tell me he's not hurting," Reynolds said.
Valenzuela, who had as much right as any man to curse the fates, or at least the nonexistent Dodger offense, did neither Sunday.
"Immediately after a game, I feel down and frustrated, but then you realize it's just another ballgame." Valenzuela said through interpreter Jaime Jarrin.
His ninth-inning display of anger, he said, was aimed at himself, not his teammates.
"You feel bad in that situation because you made a mistake," he said. "Scioscia asked me to pitch Gwynn differently and I didn't. I made a mistake, and I paid for it."
Gwynn, who in the span of a week also broke up two no-hit bids by Orel Hershiser of the Dodgers, hit Valenzuela's first pitch in the ninth into the seats in right-center field.
"I guessed fastball and I figured if he threw it, I'd go for the home run," Gwynn said. "You try to hit a home run and 999 times out of a thousand you don't do it. This time it happened."
That was the only thing the Padres could make happen against Valenzuela, who retired 20 in a row after pitching out of a first-and-third, no-out situation in the second created by Dave Anderson's throwing error and Graig Nettles' single.
Valenzuela, who struck out 10, also made three outstanding fielding plays: backhanding a smash by Garry Templeton in the fifth, barehanding Pedro Guerrero's toss to make the putout on Kevin McReynolds' grounder in the seventh and nabbing McReynolds' liner in the ninth. He was spiked by McReynolds on the play in the seventh, but said it didn't affect his pitching.
If that weren't enough, Valenzuela also collected his first hit of the season, though all that did was leave him 90 feet away from a run. Asked why he hadn't tried to score on Russell's hit, which fell in shallow left near the foul line, Valenzuela said:
"I didn't have any chance at all. I saw the outfielders playing close and saw it wasn't really well hit. So I didn't go, even though Amalfitano was giving me the sign to go."