An evening of Fernando Valenzuela usually is something to be savored, like a chilled bottle of expensive bubbly.
But on occasion, such as Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, Valenzuela looks a little rough around the edges. He allows five hits and three runs in the first two innings. He blows an early lead. Later, he gives up a two-run homer on a 1-and-2 pitch of all things.
Forget the champagne. This had the makings of something with a twist-off cap in a brown paper bag. And is this any way to win a Cy Young Award?
Then you look at the scoreboard, and the Dodgers have a 14-6 win over the division-leading Houston Astros and Valenzuela has his 19th victory of the season, which just happens to tie his career high.
Valenzuela had help. Plenty of it. Surprise appearances were made by the Dodger offense and a name from the past--Pedro Guerrero.
With the score already 11-5 and two men on base in the seventh inning, Manager Tom Lasorda sent Guerrero to the plate to bat for Valenzuela.
On the mound for the Astros was Julio Solano. If ever there was time for Guerrero to visit the plate, it was now. Guerrero stepped up with four career hits (three of them homers) in eight at-bats against Solano.
Make that four homers in nine at-bats.
On a 1-and-2 pitch, Guerrero, still recovering from his preseason knee injury, sent the ball over the left-field fence, his first home run since Sept. 28, 1985. The Dodgers had their 14 runs, the most scored by the team this season, and Guerrero had his standing ovation.
"A good feeling," Guererro said. "Every time I hit a home run, it's a great feeling. It's just like another one, nothing new."
Well, not exactly. Guerrero did say he found a certain satisfaction with the homer. If nothing else, this one counted, unlike all the other batting practice home runs he has hit in the last few months.
"I feel I can come back 100%," he said. "I don't care what anybody says. Some people think that I'm lazy, been having problems . . . Rright now, I can tell you, I think this year I never worked so hard before, really."
Besides Guerrero's bit of dramatics, the Dodgers received a three-run homer, three runs and a diving catch from outfielder Reggie Williams, all of which delighted a crowd of 34,816. Then there was Steve Sax, who went 2-for-4, raising his average to .330, three points behind Tim Raines of the Montreal Expos. Sax has a 10-game hitting streak, collecting 22 hits in 42 at-bats.
In all, there were five home runs Thursday night, one hit batter (Sax) and two ejections (Lasorda and reliever Dennis Powell). With the victory, the Dodgers have won four consecutive games--a modest streak, but they'll happily take it.
Streak or no streak, this wasn't a game Valenzuela will want saved for posterity. Had it not been for double-digit Dodger scoring, Valenzuela might have found himself still waiting for his 19th win. Even with a comfortable lead in the sixth, Valenzuela fell victim to some uncharacteristic bumbling.
Just when it seemed all was right, Valenzuela found himself glancing toward left field after Astro Kevin Bass homered with one on to cut the Dodger lead to five runs.
That took care of any late-inning intrigue. Valenzuela returned to familiar form and disposed of the Astros in the seventh before giving way to Powell. Ken Howell replaced Powell following his ejection in the ninth.
"It looked like he (Valenzuela) was wearing down a little bit," said Ron Perranoski, the Dodger pitching coach. "But with that lead, I left it up to him. He said, 'One more inning."'
Along with Valenzuela's win came renewed debate about the Cy Young. Should it go to Valenzuela, first in complete games, second in strikeouts, second in innings pitched, first in victories? Or does Houston's Mike Scott, first in earned-run average, first in innings pitched, first in strikeouts and tied for second in wins, deserve the award?
"That's tough," the Dodgers' Enos Cabell said. "There's only two guys who should win: Mike Scott or Freddy. The only thing that would hurt Freddy is that we're losing and Mike Scott's team is winning. But Freddy has been in the league a little longer. And Freddy's been winning games that we probably shouldn't win. That shows you how good he is. If we had a regular lineup, he might have 25, 26 wins by now."
Said teammate Bill Madlock: "There's no doubt that Freddy is the best pitcher in the National League. I don't see how you can't pick Fernando. Some pitchers may have better percentages or something like that, but if you ask who they think is the best pitcher, I think they'd all say Fernando."
Not all of them.
Ask Astro Manager Hal Lanier, and the answer changes a bit.