MONTREAL — In its present state, the Dodger offense can only be considered effective when the team's starting pitching shuts down the opponent and maybe knocks in a few runs, too.
Lately, that has not been too much to ask from Dodger pitchers, who have been nothing less than dominating on the mound and, in the cases of Tim Leary and Orel Hershiser, productive at the plate.
Wednesday night, however, Dodger pitching showed signs of weakness for the first time in a week, and the offensive output was insufficient to prevent a 4-3 loss to the Montreal Expos, thus ending the Dodgers' five-game winning streak.
"Our pitching's been outstanding, carried us the whole year, in fact," said slumping left fielder Kirk Gibson, who went 0 for 12 in a three-game series with the Expos.
"We're not hitting right now. If it's not happening, it's not happening. We have to get through it. I don't think we're in a position to put anyone else out there."
With Mike Marshall out indefinitely due to a stained right quadriceps muscle, and with Gibson, Steve Sax and others slumping, three runs seemingly would be considered a windfall. Especially considering that in the five straight victories the Dodgers were hitting just .213. But starting pitcher Tim Belcher, dominating through four innings, proved vulnerable against the bottom of the Expos' order in the fifth. He allowed a two-run double to Nelson Santovenia, erasing a 1-0 Dodger lead, then gave up a ground-rule double to pitcher John Dopson as the Expos took a 3-1 lead.
Dodger hitters, in their most impressive show of strength in several nights, tied the score in the eighth inning, the runs coming on John Shelby's triple and pinch-hitter Mickey Hatcher's single.
The Dodgers, however, could not push across the go-ahead run, and eventually the Expos did.
In the ninth inning, reliever Alejandro Pena gave up a two-out double to pinch-hitter Graig Nettles, who was then replaced by pinch-runner Pascual Perez. With an 0-and-2 count, Tim Wallach lined a fastball into center field, scoring Perez with the game-winning run. Los Angeles did not lose ground in the National League West race. The Dodgers, off today before opening a three-game series against the New York Mets Friday night, still lead the second-place Houston Astros by 6 1/2 games.
So ended an impressive stretch of Dodger pitching, both starting and relieving. In the previous five games, the staff had allowed a total of six earned runs. The bullpen had worked 10 scoreless innings before Pena's undoing.
Even after collecting 12 hits Wednesday--only two fewer than they totaled in their previous three wins--the Dodgers still were most concerned about their lack of offensive might, which resulted in 10 runners left on base.
Among the worriers in the clubhouse were Gibson (2 for 23 on the trip), Sax (4 for 26) and Mike Davis (3 for 17). There seems good reason to worry, considering that Sax is the club's leadoff hitter, Gibson bats third and Davis was the cleanup hitter Wednesday in Marshall's absence.
Alfredo Griffin, the No. 2 hitter, batting just .173 coming in, went 3 for 5 but failed to advance past first base. Shelby broke out of a prolonged slump (9 for 46) with three hits, including the RBI triple off reliver Joe Hesketh. Franklin Stubbs, about the most consistent producer on the trip, had two hits, and Rick Dempsey knocked in the Dodgers' first run with a bloop single in the fourth inning.
Gibson has been receiving treatment for bursitis in his left shoulder, a condition that has affected his swing, although he says he does not want to use that as an excuse. Gibson had a seven-game hitting streak before the Met series in Los Angeles 10 days ago, when his shoulder problems flared. Since then, he is 3 for 29.
In the first and third innings, Griffin had singled ahead of Gibson. But the Dodgers' second-leading run producer forced Griffin at second base each time with harmless ground balls.
Gibson said he will not take time off to rest his shoulder until the Dodgers clinch the division, if they clinch the division.
"This isn't the time to be taking days off," Gibson said. "I better learn to deal with it. I've got to get back in there swinging. This is nothing I haven't been through before."
Sax has dealt with his slump in Gibsonian fashion, throwing bats and helmets. Sax went 1 for 13 in the Expo series, including an 0-for-5 Wednesday night.
Through four innings, the Expos weren't making much contact against Belcher. He had a one-hitter and had impressively struck out the side--Tim Raines, Dave Martinez and Andres Galarraga--in the fourth.
But, with two outs in the fifth, Rex Hudler, Santovenia and even Dopson ruined Belcher's chance for his 11th win. Belcher called his fifth-inning performance "stupid," and Lasorda agreed.
"No doubt, this is the best stuff I've had all year," Belcher said. "It's not often you have your best stuff and you lose. But it happened, because I made stupid pitches to the bottom of their order.