It happens, without fail, every time Fernando Valenzuela loses two or three games in a row.
The manager worries. The fans fret. The players are puzzled. Reporters speculate.
And, without fail, Valenzuela shrugs his shoulders, rolls his eyes skyward, and mocks all the fears by throwing the kind of game he did Monday night against Philadelphia, beating the Phillies with a four-hitter, 3-1, before a crowd of 35,553 in Dodger Stadium.
Valenzuela, who had lost his last three starts, spotted the Phillies a first-inning run on Mike Schmidt's run-scoring single, but became the National League's first 16-game winner by going the distance for a major-league leading 15th time this season.
Valenzuela retired Schmidt on a foul fly with two runners on to end the eighth, then needed four outs in the ninth to close out the Phillies, striking out pinch-hitter Ron Roenicke after strikeout victim Juan Samuel had reached on a wild pitch third strike.
The Dodgers made three errors in the first two innings behind Valenzuela, but none figured in the scoring. Home runs by Mike Scioscia--his third of the season, first at Dodger Stadium--and Bill Madlock off Phillie left-hander Don Carman gave Valenzuela the support he needed.
"I knew we were going to win when Scioscia hit the home run," said Madlock, who two weeks ago had offered to greet Scioscia at the plate with pursed lips if the Dodger catcher connected.
That's why Scioscia was yelling into the Dodger dugout as he rounded third base in the second inning. He was looking for Madlock to pay up on his wager. Madlock excused his absence, saying he was stretching in the runway to the clubhouse when Scioscia connected.
Anyway, the show belonged to Valenzuela, who struck out seven and retired 13 straight between Jeff Stone's double to open the third and Ronn Reynolds' one-out single in the seventh.
"We get just like the fans," Madlock said.
"Freddie's the most amazing pitcher I've ever seen. We expect him to win every time he goes out there. And if he doesn't, we think there must be something wrong with him."
First baseman Enos Cabell, who made one of the night's better defensive plays with a sliding, juggling catch of Schmidt's foul fly in the sixth, suspects that occasionally, something does ail the Dodger left-hander.
"Amazing, isn't he?" Cabell said. "I think his arm hurts off and on--he's already pitched a lot of innings, for as short as his career is--but he's not going to tell nobody.
"He wants to pitch. When his time comes, he doesn't want anybody else to pitch."
Scioscia, who was 2 for 19 in his last seven games before collecting two hits off the flu-ridden Carman and getting robbed of another by Phillie right-fielder Glenn Wilson, maintains the concerns about Valenzuela's health are exaggerated.
"Let's start by saying Fernando's human," Scioscia said. "He's extraordinary but human. Every starting pitcher has his lulls--whether it's fatigue or loss of concentration.
"I just think Fernando was struggling for a couple of starts, there's no doubt about it. But hopefully, he's over his lull."
Scioscia was the butt of more than one joke Monday. In his cubicle, teammates had hung a poster in which Scioscia posed with Smokey the Bear, but juxtaposed the bear's face on Scioscia's body and vice versa.
"God only gave me so much talent," Scioscia said, when asked about his lack of power. "I've been struggling, getting jammed a lot.
"It's been a frustrating season in more ways than one. I'm just happy things worked out well tonight.
As for Madlock's wager?
"That's one bet I'm glad to collect on in principle rather than actuality," Scioscia said.
Dodger Notes Pitcher Jerry Reuss, who underwent surgery July 22 to remove bone chips from his left elbow, threw for 10 minutes in the Dodger bullpen. "No pain," Reuss said. "I was able to cut loose a little bit." Asked if he expects to be able to pitch again this season, he said: "I sure as hell haven't been working my butt off so I can sit all winter. I have designs on pitching this year." . . . Outfielder Reggie Williams still is experiencing some dizziness from an inner ear infection, according to Dodger trainers, and was not in the starting lineup. . . . First baseman Greg Brock has a strained left knee and is listed as day-to-day. . . . The Sporting News, in a story rating baseball trades in its Aug. 25 issue, gives the Dodgers a "C" grade. Wrote Murray Chass, the author of the article: "(Alex) Trevino played more than adequately in the absence of injured catcher Mike Scioscia. Otherwise, the Dodgers have chosen to dance with those who brung them."