NEW YORK — After Jerry Reuss had shown the New York Mets the yin and yang of pitching in the Dodgers' 2-1 win Tuesday night, he was asked if the younger Dodger pitchers sought him out like a Zen master, searching for the wisdom of his 36 years.
"No, they avoid me at all costs," Reuss said to the crowd that had gathered around him in the visitors' training room, "but you should see what I learn from them.
"Fernando (Valenzuela) and I have great conversations in Spanish about pitching that last into the wee hours of the morning."
In the background, Orel Hershiser nodded along solemnly. Hershiser wasn't about to let on that Reuss was as close to being bilingual as he was to being serious.
"It was great," Reuss said with a laugh afterward, enjoying his little joke almost as much as he relished the six-hit shutout he took into the ninth, only to lose it when Darryl Strawberry connected for his 21st home run with two out.
"Third time that's happened this year," said Reuss, who would be tied for the league lead in shutouts if he could find a way to avoid the two-out long ball. "Horner, Madlock and Strawberry."
Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda avoided the possibility of further trouble by summoning reliever Tom Niedenfuer, who blew away George Foster on three pitches for his 14th save.
Niedenfuer's first pitch knocked the thumb guard out of catcher Mike Scioscia's mitt.
"When he's really throwing hard," pitching coach Ron Perranoski said, "it's his thumb that falls off."
The Mets detected no falloff at all between Valenzuela the night before and Reuss, who won his 12th game and fourth in his last five decisions, during which he has allowed just five earned runs. Reuss' earned run average has dropped to 2.81, which would be his lowest since the strike season of 1981, when he had a 2.29 ERA.
The Dodgers have won six out of nine from the Mets, and only once have the Mets scored more than four runs. The Dodgers just needed two on Tuesday to beat ex-teammate Sid Fernandez, Mariano Duncan scoring both runs after a triple in the first and a walk and two stolen bases in the third. Enos Cabell brought home the first run with an infield out. R.J. Reynolds, who had three hits, singled home the other.
Duncan may have saved at least as many runs as he scored by streaking behind the mound and past second base to transform Keith Hernandez's chopper from a potential RBI infield hit to an inning-ending out in the sixth.
"Duncan looks like a helluva player to me--both ways," said Manager Davey Johnson, whose second-place team has lost two games in two nights to the first-place Cardinals, who lead the NL East by three games.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, return home from a 6-5 trip with a 7 1/2-game lead in the West over the Padres, who played one more game on a similar trip but trimmed just 1 1/2 games from the nine-game lead the Dodgers held when they hit the road 13 days ago.
"That was the play of the game," Johnson said of Duncan's play on Hernandez. "It's not an easy play for a shortstop, going to the other side of the bag."
When Duncan last did New York in May, little came easy, and Pedro Guerrero ended up playing bodyguard, shielding him from reporters after his two errors had cost the Dodgers a game.
"That was the last tough game Mariano has had," Scioscia said. "He's been just short of brilliant."
How to describe Duncan's progress?
"Duncan," Scioscia said, "has taken to shortstop like Ken Howell has taken to doughnuts."
That sweet sentiment was surpassed by Lasorda, who was asked if Duncan figured to be his shortstop next season, too.
"I'd say if he doesn't get hurt," Lasorda said, "Duncan may be the shortstop of the next 20 years."
Time is more precious to Reuss, at a stage in his career when every time he has a bad outing, he finds himself being asked if he might be nearing his last.
"I think Jerry has a lot of pride," Scioscia said, "especially after he signed that big contract ($4.6 million for five years). He wants to live up to it.
"He's a winner. And he's always been a winner, except for last year, which was real tough for him."
The pressure to win would appear to be intense on a staff as talented as the Dodgers, but Reuss demurs.
"We don't compete against one another, we compete alongside each other against the National League," Reuss said.
"Sure, we have egos, anybody in this room with talent has an ego, but here nobody wears it on their sleeve.
"The pitchers here believe they could be the No. 1, 2, or 3 pitcher on a lot of clubs. We think we're that good."
The Mets, for one, weren't inclined to disagree.
"We're a funny club," Johnson said. "When we go into a dry spell, it doesn't matter if we're home or away, we can't hit."