PITTSBURGH — If you could somehow condense all that was wrong with the Dodgers last season, for the sake of macabre nostalgia or ruthless torture, it probably would have come out looking a lot like Thursday night's 5-4 Dodger loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
They said it was going to be different this season and, until Thursday, it mostly had been. But on another cold night at Three Rivers Stadium, the Dodgers reverted to 1986 form by combining key injuries, bungled defensive plays and limited offensive capabilities.
Those familiar problems from the recent past were more than enough for the Dodgers to turn a 4-2 sixth-inning lead into a frustrating one-run loss, which also brought back memories of last season.
Before the game, when Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda was bemoaning the injuries that would keep Pedro Guerrero (sore right shoulder) and Mike Marshall (stiff back) on the bench, he could not have known the extent of his prophetic remarks.
"It's starting all over again," Lasorda said of the injuries.
By the end of a all-around bad night, the Dodgers also lost utility man Len Matuszek for an undetermined time with a possible tear of the plantar fascia tissue on the bottom of his left foot. Depending on the result of an examination in St. Louis today, Matuszek either will be on the disabled list or on a day-to-day basis.
If Matuszek cannot play for an extended period, Lasorda said he probably would activate Bill Madlock, out nearly the entire first month after shoulder surgery.
Aside from injuries, Lasorda touched on many of the themes from last season in sorting through this one.
"We had our chances," he said. "It was a game that was frustrating in the sense that we gave the opponent opportunities and we didn't cash in on ours. If we had just made those routine plays."
For a few innings, the Dodgers played like they could overcome the loss of their three best hitters and survive despite a depleted bench. Then came the late-inning fall, which was swift and quite familiar.
Orel Hershiser was holding steady, if not cruising, with a 4-2 lead in the sixth inning when the cloud of deja vu began hovering over the Dodgers.
After Sid Bream, a former Dodger, led off with a single to right, Jim Morrison then lashed a single that right-fielder Ken Landreaux badly mishandled, enabling Bream to take third and Morrison second. Bream scored and Morrison took third on Mike Diaz's grounder to shortstop Mariano Duncan.
Hershiser then walked Mike LaValliere, setting up a potential inning-ending double play. Pinch-hitter Bobby Bonilla capitulated, sending a sharp grounder to Duncan near second base. Duncan, however, fumbled the ball and recovered just in time to force LaValliere. But Morrison, the tying run, scored.
"That ground ball to me should have been an easy double play, but I don't have any excuses because the ball just bounced off me," Duncan said.
In the seventh, a disputed two-base error charged to Hershiser on a play at first base, followed by another foiled double-play chance, pushed across the winning run for the Pirates, who won two of the three games in the series.
Hershiser walked R.J. Reynolds with one out in the seventh. He appeared to have the second out when he forced Johnny Ray to hit a weak grounder to first. But, Hershiser, covering the base, took Franklin Stubbs' throw and appeared to drag his foot across the bag. He then turned and tagged Ray, but the ball was jammed loose and rolled into foul territory, allowing the runners to reach second and third.
Again, Hershiser served up another double-play ball--this time to Morrison after an intentional walk to Bream--that was swallowed up by the Dodger infield. Duncan handled Morrison's ground ball cleanly and threw to Sax, whose throw pulled Stubbs off the bag.
Reynolds scored, and that gave the Pirates the lead, 5-4.
"I thought I had more time than I did to make the throw," said Sax, who was partially taken out of the play by a sliding Bream. "(Bream) was coming pretty fast, but I still should have gotten the guy."
But the Dodgers' 1986 flashback was not quite complete after the defensive mistakes. No, the offense had yet to fizzle out.
The Dodgers loaded the bases with two out in the eighth inning off reliever Don Robinson, only to have Landreaux end the threat by flying to center field.
Then, in the ninth, the Dodgers called on Guerrero for a cameo with one out and a runner on first. But instead of the hot-hitting Guerrero of 1987, the slightly crippled version of Guerrero grounded into a game-ending double play.
Hershiser, whose record fell to 2-3 despite giving up only 5 hits and 3 earned runs, would not comment about the disputed play at first base or any other aspect of the game.