Even for Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda, who often entertains quixotic visions for his team, predicting the start of a long winning streak on a night when the St. Louis Cardinals hit town is more than a little extreme.
It didn't take long, though, for the latest dose of reality to take hold and perpetuate a more attainable Dodger losing streak, which reached three games Tuesday night after a typical 6-1 loss to the Cardinals in front of 41,023 fans at Dodger Stadium.
All the standard Dodger foibles were on display Tuesday night, made more glaring by the Cardinals, who have the best record in baseball.
There was the usual offensive drought, another shaky pitching performance by Fernando Valenzuela and an occasional defensive misadventure to make the macabre picture of the Dodgers' season to date complete.
"It's the same story," said Lasorda, who beforehand said he could guarantee an eight-game winning streak. "We gotta break loose. We gotta start doing it. If we break loose, we'll start getting runs."
That is the latest cruel twist for the Dodgers. If they don't score runs, they won't be able to break loose.
As of now, the Dodgers (41-52) are merely losing their grip on even the scantest chance of contending in the National League West. They are closer to catching the last-place San Diego Padres (7 1/2 games) than the first-place Cincinnati Reds (9 1/2).
For the third straight game, the Dodgers reached their run quota by the end of the first inning, this time eking out one run in the first inning on a Franklin Stubbs bloop single off Cardinal starter Bob Forsch. Typically for the Dodgers, they stranded three runners in the inning.
Meanwhile, Valenzuela, coming off his first shutout in more than a year, pitched right into the strength of the Cardinals. Facing baseball's swiftest team, Valenzuela walked seven batters in six innings and suffered the consequences.
Valenzuela, who has had more bad than good outings this season, somehow made it to the fifth inning having given up only one run despite helping create Cardinal rallies.
Then came the fall. Valenzuela managed to retire Vince Coleman and Ozzie Smith in the fifth, but he issued consecutive walks to Tommy Herr and Jack Clark. Then, Willie McGee homered to the left-field seats, giving the Cardinals a 4-1 lead.
Valenzuela (8-8) gave up two more runs in the sixth, buoyed by a leadoff walk and a fielding error, and both he and Dodgers were finished. Because Valenzuela's control was at a season low, his seven walks were a season high.
The Dodger offense, meanwhile, mounted only token threats against Forsch, who probably pitched the easiest four-hitter of his career. After the Dodgers' first-inning rally, they managed only harmless singles by Stubbs and Pedro Guerrero.
Forsch entered the game with an earned-run average of 5.00 but also with an 8-3 record. Against the Dodgers, though, Forsch was downright commanding. He recorded his first complete game of the season and his second straight win against the Dodgers. Had it not been for a shaky first inning, Forsch would have had a shutout for the first time since 1985.
Maybe there should be an asterisk around this Forsch win, since the Dodgers offer so little resistance these days. Last in the National League in runs scored and batting average, the Dodgers have totaled just five runs in their last three games.
"It's tough for us to win when we are hitting these dry spells," catcher Mike Scioscia said. "I'm not talking of just a couple of games. I'm talking about the length of the season. For three months, we haven't been scoring runs."
Indeed, but it has only been the last three games in which the Dodgers have clocked out offensively after the first inning.
"A whole bunch of pitchers can't beat anybody," Pedro Guerrero said. "Then they come in here and beat us. I wish I knew what to do. I'd do it."
Stubbs ventured this theory: "I don't understand this to save my life. But maybe it's like somebody has a jinx on us, and after the first inning, we can't score."
All sorts of theories concerning the demise of Valenzuela this season have been batted back and forth. Opponents mention that his fastball has lost speed, his screwball is flat. Well, Tuesday night, they could point to his lack of control.
"They aren't scoring a lot of runs for him, so I think he's pitching differently." Forsch said of Valenzuela. "I think he's nibbling more for the corners than he has in the past."
Part of Valenzuela's effectiveness during his six major league seasons is the ability to hit spots. Many times this season, Valenzuela's pitches have hit bats instead.
"You know, I've never had good speed," Valenzuela said. "I have to throw strikes, but I do it by hitting spots. Tonight, I couldn't do it. Bad game. I don't know why. My arm feels good.
"(The walks) hurt, especially against a team like this. That's bad."