HOUSTON — It didn't take a brain scan, an arthrogram or a team of white-frocked specialists to diagnose and cure what it was that ailed Mike Marshall, all in a span of 24 hours.
Credit Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda for spotting the symptoms of that dreaded disease, whiffitis , a common malady in baseball but one that struck Marshall with a vengeance.
It manifests itself as a sudden lack of coordination in the batter's box, and is often marked by a bowed head, a thrown helmet and a dented water cooler.
But after prescribing treatment--Lasorda sent Marshall back to the hotel early the night before after watching him strike out for the sixth straight time, a sure sign of rampant whiffitis--Marshall returned to the Astrodome Tuesday night and wreaked some vengeance of his own.
The Dodger right fielder had a double and three singles, his fourth four-hit game of the season, drove in a run and scored two more in the Dodgers' 7-2 win over the Astros before a crowd of 10,043.
With every player in the starting lineup, including winning pitcher Bob Welch, collecting at least one hit and 15 in all, the Dodgers won their third game in a row, their seventh straight in the Astrodome, and maintained their six-game lead over the Reds in the National League West.
Three of those hits belonged to Bill Madlock, who has a 17-game hitting streak, matching the longest of his career and the longest by a Dodger since Pedro Guerrero hit in 19 in a row in 1982.
And after Welch threw a six-hitter for his 12th win and eighth complete game of the season, the Dodgers' magic number for clinching the division title was reduced to seven with 11 games to go.
"Let people say we're lucky or the worst first-place team they've seen," said Marshall, who said he has heard late-night radio talk show host Larry King say precisely that.
"I don't think we surprised ourselves, we surprised everybody else. I don't think people believed what happened in 1983 (when the Dodgers won the division over favored Atlanta) and last season we had a lot of injuries. This year, we haven't.
"When your pitching is No. 1 in the league and your hitting is second or third (third), you're not very lucky to me."
Call it whatever you want, but circumstances were much more favorable Tuesday for Marshall, who lined an RBI single to right in the Dodgers' two-run first, singled through the hole in the fourth, reached on an error in the sixth, lined another single in the Dodgers' four-run seventh, and reached third in the ninth on a double and an error.
When Marshall had been removed from the game the night before, the official explanation was that he wasn't feeling well. He looked lousier than he felt.
"I don't know what I've been feeling, to be honest with you," Marshall said during batting practice Tuesday.
"Kind of a numb feeling."
Lasorda told Marshall not to show up at the Dome until 6:30, an hour before the game. Marshall arrived at 3.
"He (Marshall) said, 'Let me go play pepper,' " Lasorda said. "I said, 'I don't want you to do anything.'
"There are some guys you've got to make work. Other guys you have to hold the reins on. Mike is one who does too much."
Only two weeks ago, Marshall had been named the league's player of the week after driving in 19 runs in seven days.
"To be player of the week one day and then not have a clue for a couple of days, you start to press," Marshall said.
What changed Tuesday? Very little, he said.
"I can't explain it," he said. "I didn't feel any different when I walked into the batter's box tonight. I was definitely more relaxed.
"I'd been a little hard on myself. The strikeouts will do it. It would be one thing if I'd gone 0 for 6 with three fly balls, two groundouts and a strikeout. A little slump.
"But striking out a lot . . . I'm a free swinger, so that can happen. I'll tell you, it's a lot nicer to come back tonight."
Welch, who last week gave up more hits (13) to the Astros than any Dodger pitcher has allowed in one game this season, came back Tuesday to hold the Astros hitless until the fifth, which rookie Glenn Davis opened with a single.
After Welch pitched out of a bases-loaded jam that inning, getting pinch-hitter Denny Walling to pop out and striking out Bill Doran, Davis broke his shutout with a leadoff homer in the seventh. A bloop double, a wild pitch and an infield out accounted for the Astros' final run in the eighth.
"Better pitches," was Welch's simple explanation for the difference in starts.
"I threw 'em right down the middle last week. Tonight, I threw a lot more split-fingered pitches."
The split-finger, the trendiest pitch of the '80s, has done wonders for Welch.
"You can throw it to left-handers, too," he said. "It runs away from them and then goes down. It's been very, very good to me. And it doesn't do the same harm to my arm, like when I turn the ball over."
The Dodgers have outscored the Astros, 44-16, in the Astrodome, and have won 12 out of 17 from Houston.