ST. LOUIS — Better health failed to translate into better baseball for the Dodgers, who passed their physicals but flunked their first test of the season's second half Thursday night.
If anything, the Dodgers are in worse shape than ever after a 12-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, a defeat that dropped them nine games behind the San Francisco Giants in the National League West, their biggest deficit of 1986.
Mike Scioscia, Bill Madlock and Franklin Stubbs all returned to the lineup after injuries, but Orel Hershiser's pitching had a recuperative effect only on the Cardinals, who had 17 hits and scored as many runs in the first inning (three) as they had totaled in three games in Los Angeles 10 days ago.
By the second inning, the lead was 5-0, and Hershiser was history, having made the earliest exit of his big league career. Ed Vande Berg lasted two batters before Manager Tom Lasorda angrily yanked him out, and Dennis Powell gave up six more runs and Carlos Diaz one in the Dodgers' most one-sided defeat since a 13-2 drilling by Philadelphia June 2.
"We didn't play that bad," Madlock said, "but they just knocked the (bleep) out of the ball. We aren't going to beat nobody with all those hits.
"We don't have the kind of team that can come back from a 10- or 15-run lead. We don't have the kind of team that can come back from a three- or four-run lead."
Having Hershiser put them in that kind of hole would have been a rare experience last season, when the pitcher went 19-3 and the Dodgers were 26-8 in games that he started.
But this season, the team's million-dollar right-hander is 8-7, and the Dodgers are 11-9 in his 20 starts. Hershiser's road record--1-4 and a 5.96 earned-run average--mirrors the team's 11-27 road record, the worst in the league.
"Yeah, I'm mystified," Lasorda said. " . . . But what are you going to do when you're six runs behind even before you blink your eyes?"
Hershiser retired only 4 of the 14 batters he faced in his 1 innings of work, giving up four two-out singles in a row in the first inning.
"What can I say--I got ripped," Hershiser said. "I got hit around pretty good. They hit a couple of good pitches and they hit a lot of bad pitches.
"And if you do it early in the game, you leave the same way as you would late in the game."
About his performance away from home, Hershiser said:
"I have no answers for that, but with those kinds of stats, I must have pitched pretty poorly on the road. There's not a whole lot to say about an inning and a third.
Cardinal starter John Tudor, who had failed in six previous attempts at his seventh win, had said plenty to his teammates after his last start.
"A lot of guys, if not verbally, have mentally written off this season as one of those years--I think we want to blame everybody but ourselves for losing," said Tudor, distressed at the Cardinals' indifferent play.
Thursday night, after being given more runs than the 10 he had been given in his five losses combined, Tudor wasn't backing down from challenging the Cardinals to a "gut check."
Said Tudor, who gave up eight hits in eight innings, including Mariano Duncan's seventh home run: "I have no idea (if it had an effect), but I don't retract anything I said.
"Everything I said I felt, and as you know, I say what I feel. We needed to take a look at ourselves and decide whether we were going to continue the way we were going, or change something, play a little ball and have some fun in the second half. . . .
"Obviously, we're not going to catch the Mets . . . maybe we can't catch anybody, but we sure as heck can make a better showing and get a fresh start on next season."
While the Cardinals, 24 games behind the Mets in the East, already have thoughts of 1987, Tudor said he doesn't believe time has run out on the Dodgers.
"I don't think it's too late in that division for anybody," he said. "I don't think the Giants are shoo-ins; the Padres are capable, and so are the Reds if they can get somebody going. Who else is in that division? Houston, if they can get (Nolan) Ryan going, they've got a shot, too."
The Dodgers, of course, need Hershiser just as much as the Astros need Ryan.
"It's not a mental block; it's not a physical disability; I can't figure it out right now but I'm not giving up," Hershiser said. "My whole problem seems to be giving up a lot of runs with two outs and a lot of hits with two strikes."
Vande Berg appears to be on his last strike with Lasorda. After walking the first batter he faced, Andy Van Slyke, and giving up a check-swing, RBI double to the second, Curt Ford, Vande Berg was waved out of the game by the Dodger manager.
"I was hoping he could get one of those two left-handed hitters and save me a pitcher," said Lasorda, who instead was forced to use Powell in long relief. "Instead, he walks one guy, and even though the other guy didn't hit the ball good, he runs the count to 3 and 2."
Steve Sax extended his hitting streak to nine games with a third-inning double. He also struck out into a double play in the first and grounded into one in the fifth. Sax has gone three straight games without a hit only once this season, two straight games twice . . . Mike Scioscia returned to the lineup after missing 30 games with a membrane tear in his right ankle. "I can do everything 100% except run," Scioscia said. "I don't expect to be stealing any bases. Even when I was 100%, my running was only 80%." Scioscia, asked if he had any fears about a recurrence of the injury, suffered when Cincinnati pitcher Tom Browning slid into him at the plate, said: "If there is, then I shouldn't be playing. What happened was a freak. The throw, everything had to be perfectly timed, and my spike got caught in the ground. I don't anticipate that happening again. I sure hope it doesn't. And if you play tentatively, that only increases the chances of getting hurt."