MONTREAL — Dodger pitcher Ramon Martinez almost had resigned himself to another impressive no-decision as he settled into the dugout during the eighth inning Monday night.
Chances of a Dodger rally to break a 1-1 tie with the Montreal Expos appeared bleak, what with one out already, slumping Alfredo Griffin at the plate and Danny Heep on deck to hit for Martinez.
"I was hoping maybe they score, and it (would) work out," Martinez said. "It (hasn't been) too easy for me."
But just before all hope was lost of Martinez earning his first major league victory, a most improbable thing happened. The light-hitting Griffin, who had failed to lay down a decent bunt in his previous at-bat, lined Dennis Martinez's fastball over the right-field fence for his first home run as a Dodger.
So, after Jay Howell shut down the Expos over the final two innings for his 17th save, the Dodgers pulled out a 2-1 win to extend their winning streak to four games and their lead in the National League West to 6 1/2 games over the second-place Houston Astros.
This victory, which puts the Dodgers 22 games over .500, may be remembered for some time. Not only was the game decided by a prodigious home run from a shortstop hitting .166, but it also gave the 20-year-old Ramon Martinez proof that he can win in the major leagues.
In his previous outing, Martinez had allowed three runs in 4 innings in a loss to the New York Mets. However, in his two starts before that, he had given up only two runs in 14 innings, yet he had insufficient offensive support to earn a victory. In his 26 innings pitched in the major leagues, spanning four starts, the Dodgers have totaled just four runs.
"The guy pitched three outstanding games and he had nothing to show for it," Manager Tom Lasorda said. "It's like playing poker all night and breaking even. It's like winking at a girl in the dark. What good does it do you? Nothing."
Montreal's Martinez (15-10) has even less than the Dodgers' Martinez to show for a solid complete-game effort. In Dennis Martinez's three starts against the Dodgers, spanning 23 innings, his teammates have scored only one run.
However, the Dodgers, who often have struggled to manufacture runs, didn't send the Expos any sympathy cards.
"Yes it makes me work hard, real hard," said Ramon Martinez in his first postgame all-English interview. "The game was close, and I was hoping they make some runs before I leave. When the team scores a lot of runs, it makes you feel comfortable."
At least, that's what Martinez has been told. Before Griffin's home run it appeared as if the rookie from the Dominican Republic would have to pitch a shutout to win. Martinez allowed only an unearned run in the fourth inning and left after the seventh inning, having yielded seven hits and one walk and struck out five.
That did not appear to be good enough, though, since the Dodgers managed only a fourth-inning solo home run by first baseman Franklin Stubbs off Dennis Martinez (no relation to Ramon).
Then came Griffin's home run, his first in 223 at-bats this season. He lined a fastball just inside the right-field foul pole, 325 feet from home plate.
"I just told Griffin they confiscated his bat looking for cork," Lasorda said, laughing. "I mean, he hit a line shot. You know, that ball never went up or down. It went straight over the fence. It only cleared it by this much (about a foot). He jumped on both feet to hit that ball. He really did."
Lasorda, caught up in the moment, perhaps exaggerated a tad. But Griffin was as surprised and pleased as anyone to provide the winning run and break out of a 1-for-22 slump.
"I wasn't thinking home run," said Griffin, stating the obvious. "I'm struggling. I've tried a lot of different things that haven't worked. But I never give up. We still got a month to go, so maybe I'll do better. I'm not saying I'll hit .300, but maybe .200."
Because of his dormant bat, Griffin is starting only against right-handers, and Dave Anderson plays shortstop against left-handers.
In his previous at-bat before the home run, Griffin was put out on a poor bunt attempt.
"I don't think anyone in the league is a better bunter than I am, but I couldn't even do that right," Griffin said. "But then I hit the home run. It was a weird night."
Not so for Dodger pitching, which has been carrying the club most of the season.
Martinez, adding a restructured curveball to his pitching repertoire, kept the Expos off-balance most of the night. He ran into a few problems but worked out of them. The unearned run he allowed in the fourth scored after three ground balls were hit to the hole between third base and shortstop--two for infield singles and the other a fielder's choice and error on third baseman Tracy Woodson.