The revamped lineup, the revitalized Fernando Valenzuela and the relief of Jay Howell helped the Dodgers register a 3-2 victory over the Houston Astros Tuesday night.
Not exactly the word for a three- game win streak, but appropriate, perhaps, considering what the Dodgers were up against.
The Astros had won six straight and 16 of their last 17. They had won 10 straight on the road and boasted baseball's best road record of 17-7.
Moreover, the Astros sent Mike Scott to the mound. Scott had won his last four decisions in fashioning a 10-3 record that included a 3-0 mark against the Dodgers, who had managed to score only two earned runs in the 19 innings they had opposed Scott.
But a Dodger Stadium crowd of 29,073 saw Kirk Gibson dent some of that invincibility with a leadoff home run in a two-run first inning that provided Valenzuela with some early working room.
Scott and Valenzuela were then tied, 2-2, in the sixth when Mike Davis, who assumed the cleanup role when Eddie Murray went to No. 3 and Gibson to the leadoff spot Sunday, hammered his second home run of the season to supply the margin of difference in a victory that lifted the Dodgers to within 5 1/2 games of the Astros and San Francisco Giants in the National League West.
Valenzuela, who ended his winless streak at 19 starts with a stint of 6 1/3 innings last Wednesday in Atlanta, went 7 1/3 in this one, giving up only four hits and runs in the second and fourth innings.
He struck out three and walked four, leaving with two on and one out in the eighth.
Howell got Glenn Davis on a fly to right and Ken Caminiti on a fly to center, then gave up only a harmless single by Terry Puhl in the ninth for his 13th save, enabling Valenzuela to gain his second win in seven decisions and his first at Dodger Stadium since June 8, 1988.
Gibson, who set the tone again, has reached base nine times and scored five runs in his three games as the leadoff hitter. He walked twice Tuesday night after hitting his sixth home run, a response to Cincinnati Red Manager Pete Rose, who left Los Angeles Monday night saying Gibson isn't a leadoff hitter and the Dodgers will eventually miss his home runs.
Gibson homered on a full count pitch in his first at-bat since Rose left for San Diego. Davis drew a two-out walk in that inning, stole second and scored on a single by Mike Scioscia for the 2-0 lead.
Davis has been overshadowed some by Gibson's leadoff pyrotechnics, but he, too, has responded to his new lineup position.
Or is it to the opportunity to play, period?
Davis, in the last three games as cleanup hitter, is 3 for 8 with four runs batted in. He is also hitting .291 in his last 22 starts.
The Dodgers got only five hits, but what could they expect against Scott and a team that has made a habit of winning the close, low-scoring game?
The Astros have played 31 decided by one run and won 20.
"They're testing me to see how much I can take," Manager Art Howe said. "I told them that no matter what they do they can't make me lose any more hair."
The Dodgers are 11-12 in games decided by one run. But Valenzuela is familiar with the limited support. The Dodgers had averaged 2.3 runs in his previous 11 starts.
This time, according to Scioscia, he was able to do a little more to help himself.
"For the first time this season he was getting stronger as the game went along," the catcher said. "His fastball was better in the eighth than in the first. He realizes he has to be a new pitcher and is really starting to adjust now."
Said Davis, the Astro cleanup hitter: "He wasn't giving us anything to hit. He was changing speeds, moving the ball around. That's the way he'll have to throw if he's going to be successful."
Valenzuela said he was pleased by the strength of his arm but "I still have to be more consistent. I still have to throw more strikes."
He threw 59, but also 51 balls. He has walked 38 in 67 innings.
Caminiti walked and scored on a single by Craig Biggio in the second inning Tuesday night, and walked again and scored on a double by Puhl in the fourth.
Valenzuela retired 12 in a row between Puhl's double and a single by Gerald Young with one out in the eighth.
Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda was again in the third-base coaching box, getting a close-up look, he said, at Scott scuffing the ball. First base umpire John Kibler walked to the mound to inspect one in the sixth, then placed it back in Scott's glove.
"That made me angry," Davis said, watching from first base. "Every time they check, nothing happens. It's a joke."
A joke because they keep checking, Davis meant.
A joke because nothing is done, Lasorda would say, although his new lineup had done enough.