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Fernando Gets a Magic Number--20

September 23, 1986|GORDON EDES | Times Staff Writer

HOUSTON — The so-called eighth wonder of the world, as they still like to call the Astrodome around here, was no match Monday night for Fernando Valenzuela, a pitcher who may forever be known as one of a kind.

They can put a roof over baseball as it's played here and in similarly covered imitators. But they have yet to find a way to place any limits on what Valenzuela can do with a baseball, whether on a dirt field in Etchohuaquila or on a synthetic rug in Houston.

Five years after the birth of Fernandomania and five weeks before his 26th birthday, the Dodger left-hander became a 20-game winner for the first time in his major league career, beating the Houston Astros with a two-hitter, 9-2, before a crowd of 27,641.

Here, on the same mound on which he danced with a legend in the All-Star Game--striking out five straight hitters to tie Carl Hubbell's 52-year-old record--Valenzuela authored some history, becoming the first pitcher from his native Mexico to win 20 games in the pastime another country calls its own.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday September 24, 1986 Home Edition Sports Part 3 Page 6 Column 3 Sports Desk 2 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Don Sutton's name was inadvertently omitted from a list of 20-game winners for the Los Angeles Dodgers in Tuesday's editions of The Times. Sutton won 21 games for the Dodgers in 1976. The list also was missing one of Don Drysdale's 20-victory seasons. Besides winning 25 games in 1962, Drysdale won 23 in '65.

"Maybe people are spoiled because he's Fernando Valenzuela," said Steve Sax, baffled that anyone else could even be considered for the National League's Cy Young Award, an honor Valenzuela first won as a rookie in 1981.

"But fact is fact. He's a great pitcher."

Facts being facts, it's even more notable that Valenzuela has won 20 for a bad team, one tied for last place in the NL West, the division that the Astros lead by nine games.

"Happy Birthday, Lasorda, The Cellar is Your Gift," read one of several insulting banners hanging in the stands here.

But Lasorda, who turned 59 Monday, got a better one from Valenzuela. And the Dodgers outdid themselves in support of Valenzuela, presenting him with six runs in the fourth inning.

Ralph Bryant, Pedro Guerrero and Franklin Stubbs all hit home runs, Sax extended his hitting streak to 20 games--tying this season's league high--with two doubles and three RBIs, and the Dodgers had 13 hits in all, at least one by every player in the starting lineup except Mike Scioscia.

And in perhaps the greatest demonstration of what lengths the Dodgers were willing to go to win for Valenzuela on Monday, Guerrero even slid for the first time since an abortive slide in spring training crippled him and the team along with him.

It happened in the fourth, when Guerrero singled off the glove of second baseman Bill Doran, took second on an error by first baseman Glenn Davis, and went to third on a single by rookie Jeff Hamilton that loaded the bases.

The next batter was shortstop Dave Anderson.

"When Hamilton got his base hit and Pete approached third, it didn't look like he was running under control," said Joe Amalfitano, the Dodger third base coach. "When he got there, I said to him, 'If there's a fly ball, I'm leaving it all up to you."'

Sure enough, Anderson lifted a fly to medium right, where it was caught by outfielder Kevin Bass, who has a strong arm.

"As soon as I hit it, I said, 'Oh, no,"' Anderson said. "I knew if it was close, he (Guerrero) was going to have to slide. As soon as Bass caught it, I didn't even look.

"All I could think was, 'If Pete slides and breaks his leg, they're going to get rid of me."'

Guerrero never hesitated and broke for the plate. First baseman Davis cut off the throw, then flipped a relay to catcher Alan Ashby, but Guerrero had hooked around the Astro catcher--with his right leg.

"It wasn't the greatest slide," said Guerrero, who had ruptured the patellar tendon in his left leg in April. "But I didn't think I could get my spikes caught in the dirt, anyway."

Later, Guerrero broke through the crowd of reporters surrounding Valenzuela in the Dodger training room to offer his hand in congratulations.

"I didn't even know I was going to play today," said Guerrero, who blasted a 420-foot homer into the left-field seats off Astro reliever Manny Hernandez in the fifth.

"But I thought, maybe I could do something to help him (Valenzuela)."

Valenzuela, as usual, helped himself while pitching his league-high 19th complete game, which gives him more complete games than nine NL teams.

He gave up a two-out single to Davey Lopes in the first and then walked Davis, but struck out Bass, the Astros' leading hitter, fooling him badly with a screwball.

More than likely, he would have had his fourth shutout of the season, in addition to his seventh career two-hitter, were it not for the misadventures of rookie right fielder Bryant, who produced that rarity of rarities, a four-base error.

Bryant, seeing fly balls against a roof for the first time in his life, committed a conventional two-base error in the sixth, when he overran Billy Doran's shallow fly.

No problem. Valenzuela retired the next two hitters.

But in the seventh, Bass hit a fly ball down the line. Bryant gave chase but came too far, the ball going over his head while he went into a somersault. Bass circled the bases easily.

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