ATLANTA — Games such as Wednesday night's, not uncommon but most assuredly frustrating to Fernando Valenzuela in recent years, may have been one reason why the best Dodger pitcher of the decade has never been a 20-game winner in his career.
On a cold and gloomy night at Fulton County Stadium, Valenzuela's bid for his 20th victory was denied by the Atlanta Braves, 4-1, even though Valenzuela did nearly everything in his power in eight innings to try to make it possible. Everything else, however, seemed to go against him.
As has sometimes been the case when Valenzuela pitches, the Dodger offense bogged down, the defense hurt more than it helped and even bad luck contributed to the loss. Valenzuela's next chance to become the National League's first 20-game winner will come Monday night in Houston. All he can hope is that circumstances won't be the same.
"The man (Valenzuela) pitches an outstanding game, but we couldn't support him, couldn't get any runs for him," Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda said. "We get one run for him, so he has to throw a shut- out to win."
The adversity Valenzuela faced came just as much from his own team as Atlanta. In addition to leaving 10 runner's on base and making a poor base-running decision, the Dodgers either misplayed or failed to reach several hits that led to runs.
It also didn't help Valenzuela that he had to endure a 20-minute delay before facing the Braves in the bottom of the seventh inning because home plate umpire Dick Stello was hit by a foul tip off Valenzuela's bat in the top of the seventh and had to be replaced. Stello was taken to a local hospital for X-rays of his right wrist.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Valenzuela gave up the three runs that cost him the game in the bottom of the seventh. Even then, Atlanta's rally might have been avoided if Pedro Guerrero could have snared Ken Oberkfell's looping fly ball down the left-field line to begin the rally.
Guerrero, playing left-field for only the second time this season, seemingly made it in time to make the catch. But the ball glanced off Guerrero's glove as he lunged to make the catch. That enabled Oberkfell to cruise into second base with a double.
Dale Murphy moved Oberkfell to third with a sharp single to center, one of the few well-hit balls Valenzuela gave up. Bob Horner then bounced a single under a diving Greg Brock at first base for the game-winning RBI. Valenzuela gave up another well-placed single to Bruce Benedict later in the inning, scoring two more runs.
Considering the Dodgers' offensive production, the 4-1 lead was not difficult for Jeff Dedmon (6-6) to hold.
What might have been a Dodger rally in the eighth inning was squelched almost before it began when Reggie Williams was thrown out trying to stretch a single to shallow center field into a double. the mistake became even more glaring moments later when Bill Russell doubled to left, a blast that might have scored Williams from first.
Instead, the Dodgers went quietly after that, as did the sparse crowd of 6,475.
Although Valenzuela seemingly had a right to be upset, he appeared his stoical self afterward.
"I don't try to win 20," Valenzuela said. "I just try to go in with the attitude to help the team. The delay was not a (factor). The weather was a little cool, but it was OK for me. They gave me six more (warm-up) pitches (in the bottom of the seventh)."
But wasn't the delay and the lack of support frustrating?
"That's just part of the game," Valenzuela said, grinning.
Valenzuela's teammates weren't taking it so well. Catcher Mike Scioscia said the score should have been 6-1, Dodgers, instead of 4-1, Braves.
"You look at that inning (the seventh) and which ball was hit hard? Only Murphy's. If that first ball (Oberkfell's looping double) is caught, it's a whole different situation."
The only Dodger run came in the top of the seventh when singles by Dave Anderson and Steve Sax and an error by Braves shortstop Rafael Ramirez on a Guerrero grounder to load the bases. Then, Dedmon hit pinch hitter Alex Trevino with a pitch to force in the run.
Said Scioscia: "We should have scored enough runs to give Fernando some breathing room. It's just frustrating because we know we have the type of club that can win the division."
Dodger third baseman Bill Madlock paid for venting his frustrations by being ejected from the game by Stello in the fifth inning. It happened at a most inopportune time, too, for the Dodgers. Guerrero had just lined a two-out double to left and Madlock was looking at a 2 and 2 count when Stello ejected him.
Madlock apparently was arguing a called strike and said something Stello didn't like. So, Jeff Hamilton was brought in to hit and grounded to short to end the threat.
As it turned out neither Madlock, who threw his helmet and bat on the field twice after getting thrown out, nor Stello were around to tell the contents of their volatile conversation.
But Lasorda said: "All (Madlock) said was that it was a joke to call that pitch a strike. I don't think he deserved to be thrown out. I'm really surprised at Dick. Now, if he had used profanity, then, all right."
But, as Valenzuela might say, that's part of the game.
Steve Sax's seventh-inning single extended his hitting streak to 15 games. Sax went 1 for 5. . . . Bob Welch (7-12) pitches for the Dodgers against Atlanta's Jim Acker (3-5) today at 2:40 PDT. Brian Holton originally was scheduled for the Dodgers, but he was scratched because Alejandro Pena will be put back in the starting rotation.