ATLANTA — All right, so it was only the Atlanta Braves, who already are on a downward spiral in the National League West. So, it wasn't a clear indication of what the Dodgers are capable of doing this season.
So what? Dodger players were saying.
Quality of competition was not a consideration for the Dodgers in determining the importance of their four-game sweep of the Braves, capped here Sunday afternoon with a 3-1 win behind continued solid pitching by Orel Hershiser and relief help from Jay Howell and Jesse Orosco.
"It doesn't matter when or (whom)," first baseman Mike Marshall said. "We just go out there every game to win. There's a lot of talent in the Western Division and, if you get down early in the season, it's tough to come back."
Some Dodgers are saying a fast start in the season's first month, especially with 14 of the first 16 games against the Braves and Padres, is an essential confidence-builder for a successful season.
If that is the case, then the groundwork was laid here, courtesy of the still-winless Braves. After their opening-day loss to San Francisco, the Dodgers have won five straight games. It is the club's longest winning streak since early August, 1986, when they won eight straight.
"It was great to win them here," Manager Tom Lasorda said. "If you win in April, you don't have to win them all in September."
Excuse the Dodgers for presuming that their late-season games will mean something in the standings this season. They may be the contenders they say they are if they continue to play as they have the first week, against teams that don't deserve to have "Born to Lose" emblazoned on their sleeves.
To dispose of the Braves on Sunday, the Dodgers used another powerful pitching effort by Hershiser, who had shut out the Giants in his first start last Tuesday.
This time, Hershiser took a 3-0 lead into the ninth inning, only to yield a leadoff single to Dion James and a run-scoring double to Gerald Perry on his 100th pitch. That ended Hershiser's bid for bookend shutouts to open the season, as well as hope for his second complete game.
Lasorda called upon Howell, who had not left the sanctuary of the bullpen since the first game of the Freeway Series 10 days ago. Howell forced Andres Thomas to ground to second for the second out, Perry advancing to third. Then, Lasorda summoned Orosco, who struck out pinch-hitter Gary Roenicke by using only sliders to earn his second save.
Unlike Saturday night, when the Dodgers exploded for 11 runs, good pitching Sunday was imperative because runs were scarce.
The Dodgers pushed across an unearned run in the first inning, thanks to Steve Sax's aggressive baserunning.
Sax knocked loser Rick Mahler's first pitch up the middle for an apparent single, but surprisingly did not stop at first base. He noticed that Albert Hall, the Braves' center fielder, wasn't exactly rushing to retrieve the ball, so he tried for second. Hall's throw was in time, but second baseman Damaso Garcia dropped it. Two batters later, Sax scored on Pedro Guerrero's sacrifice fly.
"You like to see that," Lasorda said. "You got to take chances."
The Dodgers added a second run in the sixth on consecutive singles by Guerrero, Mike Marshall and Mike Davis, who gained his first run batted in as a Dodger. Two innings later, the Dodgers gave Hershiser a third run to work with in the eighth when Marshall's single drove in Kirk Gibson, who had singled and notched his fourth stolen base in six games.
Hershiser hasn't exactly been imbued with runs from Dodger hitters in his first two starts. He had only a 1-0 lead after 7 1/2 innings of his shutout against San Francisco and didn't have much room for error on Sunday, either.
"We're doing the things it takes to win," Hershiser said. "We're scoring enough runs. We're making the (defensive) plays. We're getting good pitching. Some games, we might have to work for runs. Some games, we can blow them out."
Then, Hershiser smiled and added: "If I can get a shutout in half my starts and go 8 (innings) in the others, I'll be all right."
Hershiser has been more than all right in his two starts. Even without his best stuff Sunday, he was able to hold off the Braves, who were outscored, 25-9, in the four-game series. "I couldn't get my curve down all game," Hershiser said. "But I've learned to be more creative on the mound. That's what got me through the outing.
"I've learned to take a little something off or (put) something on my fastball. That comes with maturity. I'm not afraid to take risks now, pitch more aggressively. Maybe in '85 or when I was younger, I might have just tried to (pitch) harder and might have been out of there."
The Dodgers' defense, historically a contributor to some of Hershiser's defeats, aided him this time.