CINCINNATI — The Dodgers' 2-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds Sunday could be labeled another paint-by-numbers victory, devoid of much drama. Pitching, as usual, dominated the canvas, with only short strokes of offense brushed in.
But the finished product, at least in the Dodgers' judgment, was a masterpiece. Led by a combined shutout from starter John Tudor, who gave up five hits in six innings, and reliever Alejandro Pena, who pitched three scoreless innings, the Dodgers once again were able to turn back the Reds despite a minimum of offense.
To Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda, his feet propped on his desk and a smile stuck on his face, every victory is as original as a Picasso.
"What a game," said Lasorda, mustering all available enthusiasm. "Wasn't that great out there. Boy, am I happy. You don't know how happy that game made me."
Why the giddiness from Lasorda?
Well, it may have something to do with the Dodgers moving much closer to clinching the National League West title. With Sunday's victory, the Dodgers moved 9 games ahead of their nearest pursuers, the Houston Astros and San Francisco Giants, with 14 to play.
It is routinely efficient performances such as Sunday's that have enabled the Dodgers to win 86 games this season and walk away from the competition. The state of the art seemingly is of no concern to the Dodgers as long as the results are to their liking.
The perspective from another baseball connoisseur, Cincinnati Manager Pete Rose, differed just a tad. As only he can, Rose paid the Dodgers a backhanded compliment for winning without flare.
"Those are the kind of games the Dodgers have won all year and we have lost," Rose said. "They know how to do that."
Effective starting pitching on this day came from Tudor (10-8), who left his last start after five innings, complaining of a sore elbow. Though he initially doubted he would be able to make this start because of the elbow problems, Tudor stranded runners on third base three times through five innings and reported only minor twinges of pain in his elbow. After striking out the side in the sixth inning, Tudor was pulled for precautionary reasons.
In came Pena, Sunday's designated bullpen stopper. One game after four Dodger relievers--the last being Jay Howell--turned back the Reds, Pena pitched three innings without allowing a baserunner to earn his 11th save and lower his earned-run average to 1.99. It was the first time since July 17 that Pena, normally used as a set-up man, has pitched three innings.
The Dodgers would have wasted all that quality pitching had it not been for a seventh-inning uprising against Red reliever Frank Williams.
The only run Tudor and Pena needed was driven in by Jeff Hamilton, who doubled to left field to score John Shelby, who had walked and advanced to second on Williams' balk. Later in the inning, Williams walked Alfredo Griffin with the bases loaded to make it 2-0, Dodgers.
Hamilton's run-scoring double, far less dramatic than his game-winning home run against the Reds a week ago Sunday in Los Angeles, was one of only five hits the Dodgers had this time.
Had Red starter Jose Rijo not left after five innings with recurring soreness in his right elbow, the Dodgers might still be searching for a run.
September has not been a plentiful month for the Dodgers, at least offensively. They are hitting only .195 and have averaged only 2.4 runs a game in that span. But as long as the pitching holds, the Dodgers, whose magic number is six, figure to hold the West lead and probably clinch the title next week.
Part of that depends on the health of Tudor, who has had a chronic elbow problem throughout his career. Tudor said he took the mound Sunday not knowing whether he could pitch without pain. Turns out, he was a pain only to the Reds, yielding only five hits and continually fooling them with an assortment of off-speed pitches.
"I threw a few pitches today where I felt a twinge but, basically, it felt good," said Tudor, whose earned-run average dropped to 2.20. "To be honest, I wasn't sure what was going to happen, whether I'd miss the start or what. I felt good today, and I was confident handing over any lead to our bullpen."
Pena, who overcame major shoulder surgery in 1985, confirmed Tudor's faith. After pitching 1 hitless innings Saturday night, Pena pitched to the minimum of nine batters in his outing Sunday. Noteworthy was that Lasorda enabled Pena to finish the game. Pena is accustomed to pitching one or two innings and then bowing to Howell or, on occasion, Jesse Orosco.
"He was about to take me out again today," Pena said. "They asked me, 'Do you feel OK?' I said, 'Yeah.' But I knew that if somebody would get on in the ninth, I'm automatically out of there.
"I'm not worried about it anymore. I try to do my job. I know what it is. If he wants to take me out, fine."
Lasorda, who had Howell tossing in the bullpen during the ninth inning, said he chose to remain with Pena "because he was throwing real good."