Ol' Nolan Ryan, who has seen a lot during his 20-season express run through the major leagues, probably hasn't had many nights easier than this one.
Not that the Houston Astros' 40-year-old pitcher wasn't appreciative that the Dodgers once again were accommodating to their guests.
Ryan, though not quite in top form Monday night, still pitched 6 solid innings to post an 8-1 win over the Dodgers before 17,472 fans at Dodger Stadium, the smallest home crowd since Sept. 17, 1979.
Thanks to shaky Dodger pitching and equally poor defense, the Astros racked up eight runs in the first six innings, giving Ryan (8-14) more support than he would need. He allowed 1 run on 8 hits during his 6 innings, struck out 9 and walked 2.
It was Ryan's fourth win in his last six starts, and it moved him within percentage points of Dodger pitcher Orel Hershiser for the National League earned-run average lead. Officially, both pitcher's ERA's stand at 2.71, but Hershiser (2.7076) holds a slight lead over Ryan (2.7098).
The win pushed the Astros into second place in the NL West, 6 1/2 games behind leader San Francisco. The Giants' win over San Diego Monday night kept the Dodgers (60-83) from sharing last place with the Padres (59-84).
But judging by the state of the Dodgers' art Monday, last place is an appropriate resting place.
Monday, Ryan was a first-hand witness to the latest depth to which the Dodgers have sunk. On a night when the Dodger defense and pitching was embarrassingly inefficient, the offense was just plain embarrassed by Ryan.
Afterward, Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda was asked if there was anything he liked about Monday's debacle.
He was stumped.
"Wait a minute," Lasorda said, smiling. "I'm trying to think of something."
The three errors by the Dodger infield resulted in three unearned Astro runs. Dodger Shawn Hillegas (2-3) had perhaps his worst start since being recalled from Albuquerque, giving up four earned runs and nine hits in four innings.
None of the four Dodger pitchers Monday could contain Kevin Bass, who went 4 for 5 with 4 RBIs, including a two-run home run off Hillegas in the fifth. But the busiest Astro on the bases was leadoff batter Gerald Young, whose four stolen bases set an Astro record. Only Vince Coleman of the St. Louis Cardinals and Rickey Henderson of the New York Yankees have stolen four bases in a game this season.
Young, a rookie, also had four hits to lead a 16-hit Astro attack. It matched the most hits Dodger pitching had allowed in a game this season.
Ryan, meanwhile, earned the 261st win of his career. The Dodgers did manufacture a little suspense by threatening with bases-loaded situations in the first and sixth innings.
But Ryan worked his way out of both of those predicaments. But he tired in the seventh and gave up a leadoff single to Phil Garner, who had struck out twice earlier. One out later, Steve Sax's single to left moved Garner to third. then, with two outs, Franklin Stubbs' single scored Garner to make it 8-1.
That was it for Ryan, who departed amid a standing ovation. Larry Andersen got the third out of the inning and also pitched a scoreless eighth.
Juan Agosto pitched a scoreless ninth for Houston.
Five of Ryan's nine strikeouts came against Dodger rookies Ralph Bryant, Mike Devereaux and Chris Gwynn. Bryant struck out three times, including being called out on strikes with the bases loaded in the first.
"Anytime you go against a guy who throws the ball like that, it makes you think," Stubbs said. "Especially the younger guys who haven't faced him a lot. You're just really playing into his hand if you try for the big swing against him. (Ryan) gets hurt by guys who punch the ball, just make contact."
Ryan, who admitted afterward that he didn't have his best stuff, said he set up the young hitters with off-speed pitches before delivering fastballs for strike outs.
"I try to establish my curve and changeup early in the game," Ryan said. "It makes my fastball seem better."
It certainly looked good to Lasorda.
"He's amazing," Lasorda said. "Unbelievable. Certain pitches he throws as hard as ever. He throws a lot more breaking balls and changeups. You still can't give up too many runs against him."
Lasorda, perhaps frustrated by his club's lack of success against Ryan, made mass changes at the top of the seventh inning. Some were because of pinch-hitting moved the previous inning, some as a gesture of concession against Ryan.
Stubbs, who replaced Guerrero during the five-man switch, produced the only RBI against Ryan.