The optimism generated by Fernando Valenzuela in his last start faded faster than the twilight Thursday night at Dodger Stadium.
The proud left-hander was gone after only 1 2/3 innings of the Dodgers' 12-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, the same team Valenzuela had shut out for seven innings at Busch Stadium five days before.
This time, he faced only 11 batters, allowing six runs, five of them earned, and five hits.
Successors Tim Crews and Ricky Horton were similarly abused as the Cardinals had 21 hits before Manager Tom Lasorda called on Stuntman Stopper Mickey Hatcher to pitch the ninth inning, saving the wear and tear on one of his regular relievers.
The remnants of a crowd of 36,689, having had little to cheer as the Cardinals scored early and often in support of Ken Hill's three-hit shutout, reacted with glee as Hatcher raced to the mound in the ninth.
What followed wasn't pretty, but it ultimately became the only inning in which the Cardinals did not get a hit.
Hatcher hit Tim Jones in the back with his first pitch, balked Jones to second, walked Denny Walling, walked Tom Brunansky to load the bases, got Jose Oquendo to ground into a double play as a run scored, then walked Milt Thompson before getting Tony Pena on a fly to right field.
The crowd roared as Hatcher left as he had come in, racing to the dugout, where he slammed his glove on the top step.
"I needed one more inning. I was finding the zone," Hatcher said with a semi-straight face later. "I had good stuff in the pen, then I get in my first outing, and that guy (plate umpire Jim Quick) was squeezing me."
Hatcher said he pitched in Little League and high school and had been "waiting to do this for 10 years."
"I just wish I had held them without a run," he said. "We might have battled back and won this."
Said Lasorda: "The guy's incredible. The people love him. Did you see how they were hanging over the railing watching him warm up in the bullpen?"
Watching him warm up?
"They were on their way home," Hatcher said. "I was telling them to get back in their seats."
Hatcher, Crews and Horton, of course, aren't under the microscope that Valenzuela is.
Still without a victory since June 14, Valenzuela has totaled only 29 1/3 innings of six starts this year, allowing 33 hits and 16 earned runs for an ERA of 4.91.
Ramon Martinez is 5-0 with Albuquerque, but Lasorda said he felt certain Valenzuela will make his next start. Nevertheless, the manager said he was concerned.
"No doubt about it," Lasorda said. "The guy was a winner and he's struggling now. He didn't pitch good tonight. He kept his stuff down in St. Louis, but got it up tonight.
"I don't know that we have to sit down and evaluate it. The question is with his control. His stuff is sufficient. A lot of guys in the big leagues throw the same way and win."
Executive Vice President Fred Claire said he, too, was not at a point where he is ready to make a determination on Valenzuela's status in the rotation. He said there is an ongoing evaluation of Valenzuela's performances and that the Dodgers will eventually do what is best for the club.
"When you see the way the Cardinals were swinging the bats tonight, part of what happened to Fernando comes under the heading of 'just one of those nights.' I mean, the fact that he got knocked out early doesn't place a stamp of definition on it. I don't place critical importance on one outing.
"The fact that he pitched well in St. Louis didn't indicate he was back, and the fact that he didn't pitch as well tonight doesn't mean he isn't. I don't think it's that clear, that black and white."
Asked if he was frustrated, Valenzuela shook his head and said: "I knew I would have some bad games and this was one of them. I felt I threw pretty good, but the Cardinals hit me good. No excuses. The only one to stop the Cardinals tonight was Mickey. He pitched good. I used seven pitches and they hit every pitch I threw. All I can do is come back next time and try to do better."
Valenzuela retired the first two Cardinals he faced, then a throwing error by Jeff Hamilton cost him the third out of that first inning. Pedro Guerrero, his sprained left ankle wrapped in tape, followed with a run-scoring single.
There was nothing tainted in the second. Oquendo doubled and Thompson homered. Two more singles and a walk loaded the bases, bringing on Crews.
Guerrero got an infield single to score one run and Brunansky looped a single to center to score two.
The Cardinals got three more runs in the third and one each in the fourth and fifth. Pena finished with four hits and Ozzie Smith and Oquendo each had three.
Hill, who held the Dodgers scoreless for eight innings of the same game in which Valenzuela pitched last Saturday, was even better this time. The 23-year-old right-hander walked one, struck out nine and restricted the Dodgers to three singles--one by Eddie Murray, stretching his hitting streak to 13 games, in the first; one by Willie Randolph in the third, and one by Mike Scioscia in the seventh.