HOUSTON — By their own doing, the Dodgers were denied an appearance by Fernando Valenzuela in their season opener here Monday night. What they didn't expect was also being deprived of slugger Pedro Guerrero, who had a bad reaction to a routine injection into his right knee.
That doesn't figure to be the recommended way to open the season, especially when you're facing Houston Astro pitcher Mike Scott. But it did seem quite familiar in several respects.
A 4-3 loss to the Astros before 44,585 in the Astrodome was frustratingly familiar to a team that specialized in one-run losses last season and also became quite accustomed to life without Guerrero.
If the Dodgers could derive anything positive from this one, it's that Guerrero is expected to be out only a few days, and that they managed to get eight hits and three runs off Scott, the split-fingered sorcerer.
It turned out to be one run too few, though, after veteran Astro outfielder Jose Cruz broke a 3-3 tie in the seventh inning with a solo home run to dead center field off Orel Hershiser, a loser in his first season-opening assignment of his Dodger career.
Hershiser, awarded the first-game honor that automatically went to Valenzuela the last four years, made few mistakes before the Astros' 39-year-old left fielder launched a Cruz missile that even Mike Ramsey, the Dodgers' fleet young center fielder, could not run down.
Actually, none of those involved called the low, outside fastball Cruz hit a mistake.
"I was lucky to hit it out," Cruz said. "I hit it hard, but it was a good pitch."
That was of little solace to Hershiser, who gave up eight hits and three earned runs in seven innings. He wanted to enable the Dodgers to be 1-0 going into Valenzuela's debut here tonight.
"I'd throw it again to him," Hershiser said. "You're going to make good pitches and they are going to hit them, sometimes. He hit it a long way for where the ball was pitched. I didn't make many mistakes, but I just didn't come out on the good side. Hopefully, if I continue to throw the ball that way, things will work out better."
Scott versus Hershiser didn't hold the same allure as Scott vs. Valenzuela. But that decision was made nearly two weeks ago. Guerrero's absence, on the other hand, wasn't determined until Monday morning after a night spent icing his right knee.
The right knee is not the one that Guerrero injured at the end of spring training last season. He has experienced tendinitis in the knee for several years and, after feeling soreness during the Freeway Series, asked team doctors for an anti-inflammatory injection.
Instead of reducing the swelling and pain, it increased it, and Guerrero had to scratch himself from the lineup.
In the ninth inning, with Dave Smith in relief of Scott, Guerrero grabbed a bat and limped around the dugout. Manager Tom Lasorda said he would have asked Guerrero to hit if the Dodgers put a runner on base, but that didn't happen. Besides, Guerrero said his knee wasn't up to it. "I was playing in all those spring games that didn't mean anything, and now the real war starts and there's no way I can run for fly balls," Guerrero said. "Now, I figure the left (knee) is the good one of the two.
"Oh well, they started the season without me last year, too . . . "
The Dodgers can only hope Guerrero will be back soon and that they won't repeat last season's start. After Valenzuela gave the Dodgers a one-run victory in last season's opener, they were involved in nine straight one-run games, winning just two more.
Even without Guerrero--and off nights from big hitters Bill Madlock and Mike Marshall--the Dodgers were able to get to Scott, who looked very human in working seven innings and allowing three runs on eight hits.
The Dodgers' offense came from unlikely sources.
Ramsey, the rookie who apparently has beaten out Ken Landreaux as the starting center fielder, singled and scored the Dodgers' first run in the fifth inning. Hershiser knocked him in from second with a single.
In the sixth inning, with Franklin Stubbs on second, Astro Manager Hal Lanier walked Mike Scioscia intentionally so Scott could face Ramsey. Ramsey hit the first pitch into center field, scoring Stubbs and giving the Dodgers a 2-1 lead.
Stubbs was the other offensive star, getting three singles off Scott. His two-out single to right in the seventh scored Steve Sax from second base and tied it, 3-3.
But that was all the Dodger offense could produce. Smith, who had a 0.00 earned-run average in 10 exhibition innings for the second straight spring, picked up the save by retiring all six batters he faced.
Most nights, the Dodgers would be content with three runs against Scott. Before the Dodgers' scored in the fifth inning, Scott had not allowed a run in the Astrodome in 27 innings.
"I was good enough, I guess," Scott said. "I wanted to keep us in the game, and I guess I did. But that wasn't the best outing I've had. I was hanging some split-fingers. Stubbs hit one and Ramsey hit a couple."