The smallest Dodger Stadium crowd of the season was proof Friday night that local devotees have not become overly zealous about the recent upswing in Dodger fortunes.
Perhaps, they suspected that it was a temporary condition, and the Dodgers gave them no reason to believe otherwise, dropping a 6-3 decision to the Chicago Cubs before a crowd of 26,443.
Gary Matthews, who personally wrecked the Dodgers in the 1983 playoffs while with the Philadelphia Phillies, gave the Dodgers a double jolt of reality in this game, hitting home runs off relievers Jerry Reuss and Tom Niedenfuer after Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda had given starter Rick Honeycutt the hook before the sixth inning with the Dodgers down, 2-0.
Matthews, who in the fourth inning singled home the Cubs' first run (the Cubs scored another run in the fifth), made the lead 4-0 with a two-run shot in the sixth off Reuss, who gave up a team-leading 12th home run in just his 68th inning of work.
The Dodgers, who had won four of their previous five games and had scored 19 runs in their previous two games, rallied within 4-2 on Len Matuszek's two-run homer in the sixth.
But in the eighth, Matthews put Niedenfuer in double figures--10 home runs in 53 innings--and Manny Trillo singled in another run. Cub reliever Lee Smith struck out five Dodgers in the last two innings to eliminate any comeback illusions.
Matuszek, who owns the Dodgers' only two home runs in the last 15 games, hopes the team hadn't become deluded by its recent winning ways.
"I think we have to realize that we're not the kind of team where just because we won a couple of games, we're on our way," Matuszek said.
"The last couple of nights, we did happen to swing the bats, but we haven't done that consistently enough to say, 'Hey, we're on a roll.'
"And one thing we haven't done all year on somebody is come back to win, and we came up short again tonight."
Honeycutt's night was cut short when Lasorda waved him back to the dugout in favor of the pinch-hitting Greg Brock, who hadn't been to the plate in more than three weeks and was making his first appearance since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.
Brock, whose future may hinge as much on Pedro Guerrero's left leg as on his own, struck out into a double play as Cub catcher Jody Davis threw out Mariano Duncan, who was trying to steal for the first time since he missed 15 games with a sprained right ankle.
Honeycutt, who has a 5-5 record even though his earned-run average is a league-leading 2.09, diplomatically avoided direct criticism of Lasorda's decision.
"All I can say is he didn't like the way I was throwing the ball the last couple of innings," Honeycutt said.
"I thought I was throwing so-so. I felt like I made three or four bad pitches, and they all hurt me."
In the fourth, Honeycutt issued a two-out walk to Ron Cey, who advanced to second on a passed ball by catcher Alex Trevino.
"I was expecting a sinker away, and the ball sailed in and up," Trevino said.
Matthews followed with a single to center, and it was 1-0.
With one out in the fifth, Shawon Dunston hit a drive that rattled off the railing in the left-field corner for a triple, and Trillo singled Dunston home through a drawn-in infield.
In the sixth, Cey was credited with a double when center fielder Reggie Williams called Steve Sax off Cey's bloop fly, then had the ball go off his glove.
"I didn't hear anybody calling for it," Williams said, "so I decided to take charge."
The Sarge, as Matthews is known, then took charge, belting a curveball into the seats in left field off Reuss, who hadn't pitched in a week and is trying to find himself as a long reliever.
"It's not an easy role," Reuss said. "I'm just trying to do the best I can.
"He (Matthews) hit a good pitch. I thought it was good. It was down. I knew he hit a curveball (for a home run) off Orel (Hershiser), but he's hit a lot of fastballs off me.
"I just wish I'd done better, and held them close."
Can Reuss, whose 194 career wins have come almost entirely as a starter, function effectively in relief?
"I hope he can," Lasorda said. "That's his job right now. . . . He's got to function down there and do the job for us."
The Dodgers remain last in the NL West, although someone suggested that life is better there than in the NL East, where the Cubs are treading 22 games behind the Mets.
"It's better than being in India," Lasorda said. "Better than being in Nicaragua, too--where the hell is it?"