NEW YORK — The panic inspired by the heretical notion that Dwight Gooden might be something less than immortal subsided a few degrees in Shea Stadium Wednesday night when the Mets beat the Dodgers, 4-2, for Gooden's first win in three weeks.
It might have disappeared altogether, except that Gooden gave up home runs to Mariano Duncan and Steve Sax, the first earned runs he has allowed the Dodgers in almost a year, and almost gave up another home run to Greg Brock that would have tied the score with two out in the ninth.
But otherwise, order was restored in K Corner, the upper reaches of Shea Stadium where they keep a running tally of Gooden's strikeouts.
The Dodgers, such troublemakers the night before when Tom Niedenfuer touched off a bench-clearing melee, behaved with much greater civility toward Gooden, who struck out 10 of the visitors and gave up just five hits on a night his curveball took precedence over his famous heat.
"There's nothing wrong with the Doctor," said Met catcher Gary Carter, batterymate to the 21-year-old phenomenon they call Doctor K. "The Doctor is back."
So, too, was the Dodger bullpen, an unhappy development for Dodger starter Jerry Reuss but one that might have been presaged before the game, when big clouds of black smoke billowed in the background, some distance from the stadium.
"There's a fire in our bullpen," someone cracked in the Dodger dugout.
It was nothing like the one that erupted for the second straight night in the sixth inning, when the Dodgers' 1-1 tie went up in smoke as soon as Reuss departed, following a leadoff double to Mookie Wilson.
Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda eschewed the option of summoning Niedenfuer, seemingly a prudent decision inasmuch as George Foster had connected for a grand slam off Niedenfuer the night before.
But Lasorda's choice Wednesday night, left-hander Ed Vande Berg, could not have been more ill-suited for his assignment had he shown up on the mound wearing graffiti shorts.
First, Vande Berg threw wildly to second base on a pickoff attempt, allowing Wilson to advance to third. Then Met rookie Kevin Mitchell, whose original assignment had been to bunt Wilson over, hit one into the lower deck in left field.
That made it 3-1, Mets, and it became 4-1 when Vande Berg gave up singles to Keith Hernandez and Ray Knight sandwiched around a walk to Carter, who earlier had homered off Reuss for the Mets' first run.
Lasorda then had no choice but to bring in Niedenfuer, whose entrance was accompanied by thunderous boos.
"I felt right at home," Niedenfuer said. "It sounded just like Dodger Stadium."
Niedenfuer got pinch-hitter Danny Heep to line back to him for an inning-ending double play, but Gooden had more than an ample cushion--or so it seemed.
Then Sax hit a two-out home run into the left-field bullpen in the eighth.
"The wind might have helped Duncan's home run," said Gooden, who had not given up a hit to Duncan in 14 previous at-bats until the Dodger shortstop sliced a ball to left in the fifth, "but Sax's home run was a major league home run."
And with two out in the ninth, Mike Scioscia lined an opposite-field double, bringing up Brock, who had sent center fielder Mookie Wilson back to the warning track in the fifth and sent another ball hurtling in the same direction this time.
"I thought it was a home run," Gooden said. "I dropped my head."
A moment later, however, Gooden found himself in the arms of Carter, as Len Dykstra caught the ball in front of the 410-foot sign.
"I thought both of them were home runs," Brock said.
"But the wind was funny out there. Anywhere else, any other day. . . . "
This day, however, belonged to Gooden, who had gone winless in his previous three starts--but had never gone winless in four. Mel Stottlemyre, the Mets' pitching coach, suggested that Gooden slow down his delivery, especially his leg kick. Gooden did the rest.
"It helped all of us," Carter said of Gooden's sixth win against two losses. "It's almost like we've taken the Doctor for granted. He was 24-4 last year, he got off to the great start this year, then he had this little lull.
"But I knew Dwight had too much pride, too much inner drive to let something like this affect him. . . . I said before the game the Dodgers were in trouble."
So did the Dodgers.
"Anybody's beatable," Sax said, "but he's about as close to being unbeatable as you can get.
"He's always the same. Always awesome."