It took about three hours and many embarrassing episodes of trial-and-error at the plate Monday night, but the Dodgers finally solved the maddening problem of Chicago Cub starter Scott Sanderson.
Utilizing an assortment of off-speed pitches and an adequate fastball that turned even the Dodgers' big hitters into big missers, the beguiling Sanderson was two outs away from his first complete game and an easy win.
Then came the Dodger onslaught, which livened things considerably for the 35,819 at Dodger Stadium. But the Cubs, who hit Dodger pitching all night, still prevailed, 6-3.
Andre Dawson had an especially good night, going 3 for 4 with three RBIs. Dawson hit his 11th home run, a two-run blast to left field in the sixth inning off reliever Tim Leary. And his RBI single in the eighth gave the Cubs their sixth run.
The undoing of Sanderson, who improved his record to 3-0, was brought along partly because he was tiring and partly because Dodger hitters finally got the connection on what to hit.
First, Ken Landreaux hit an inside fastball over the right-field fence to make the Cubs' comfortable five-run lead a little less so.
Then Bill Madlock, who had hit the ball hard all night and had little to show for it, hit a 2-and-0 fastball over the 330 sign down the left-field line to make it 6-3 Cubs.
Concern started to overtake Cub Manager Gene Michael, who immediately had ace reliever Lee Smith warming up in the bullpen. After Pedro Guerrero slashed a single to right, Sanderson was out and the Dodgers soon were, as well.
Smith needed only two pitches to force Mike Scioscia to line to second baseman Ryne Sandberg, who doubled up Guerrero at first.
"It was the change of speeds," Landreaux said of Sanderson's effectiveness. "I hit a fastball out, which I was looking for, being five runs down. But he was throwing that slow curve all night.
"When it's up, you can hit it. When it's down, forget it. He got lucky on a few of those hard balls we hit, too."
Whereas Dodger starter Orel Hershiser (3-4), a victim of well-placed Cub hits and one ill-timed walk, couldn't muddle through a rare off night at home, Sanderson thrived by continually fooling Dodger hitters with an assortment of off-speed pitches.
The Dodgers' first real threat against Sanderson came in the fifth inning, when they loaded the bases with none out. But Mike Ramsey grounded into a double play, and pinch-hitter Ralph Bryant struck out on three pitches.
When the Dodgers finally started hitting Sanderson, they trailed by five runs.
"Most of the night, he got us on the change up and slow curve," said Steve Sax, who tripled in the third and scored on Mike Ramsey's single for the Dodgers' first run. "It worked because it was such a big contrast to his fastball, which is pretty good.
"He had good control. The guy didn't get behind too much. When you pitch like that, nine times out of 10, you win."
Sanderson laughed when it was suggested that his slow curve was unhittable Monday.
"I was fortunate tonight," Sanderson said. "I can't get by with just one pitch. I'm not a one-pitch pitcher. I throw your basic four pitchers (fastball, changeup, curve and slider). There are a lot of clubs in the league like the Dodgers, who can hit you if you don't use all four pitches."
Sanderson says he was not tired in the ninth inning.
"You know what happened in the ninth?" he said. "Some of their better hitters came up and and just hit the ball. Give them some credit."
Michael, however, saw it differently. "He was tired," Michael said. "Any time you give up two home runs on fastballs, you can tell. But he was awesome tonight. This was the first time we got him into the ninth."
Meanwhile, five innings was Hershiser's quickest exit in his eight starts this season. More surprisingly, his off night occurred at Dodger Stadium, where he has earned all three of his wins via complete games.
Monday night came the fall, though. Hershiser allowed at least one baserunner in each of the five innings he worked.
The Cubs didn't necessarily hit Hershiser hard or long, but they did it often. Every Cub starter except for third baseman Keith Moreland had at least one hit off either Hershiser or Leary.
Leary, who entered in the sixth, brought out the power in the Cubs, who had hit 44 home runs in 30 games.
Not surprisingly, Dawson suppled the home-run power. With two out and Sanderson on first, Dawson hit a Leary off-speed pitch that barely cleared the left-field fence to give the Cubs a 5-1 lead.
It was Dawson's 11th home run and 32nd run batted in. But he wasn't finished. An inning later, with Cubs on first and second, Dawson lined a single to right-center that scored Sandberg and made it a 6-1 advantage.