The series finale with the Houston Astros Thursday night came down to Mariano Duncan driving in Franklin Stubbs in an unlikely scenario that lifted the Dodgers to a 2-1 victory in 11 innings.
It apparently lifted the Dodgers in other ways as well.
"This is as confident and high as we've been all year," starter Tim Belcher said. "It's early enough that we feel we can make a move and win again.
"We've proved it the last three days by sweeping a team that had swept us."
The three in a row at Dodger Stadium served as redemption for the four in a row that the Dodgers lost in Houston recently and also moved the Dodgers to within 4 1/2 games of the first-place San Francisco Giants in the National League West.
Houston had arrived with a winning streak of 10 on the road and six overall, but it is the Dodgers who have now won five straight, ignited by the move that put Kirk Gibson in the leadoff role and sustained--as they have been throughout the season--by a pitching staff that has allowed two earned runs or less in 33 of 64 games and leads the major leagues with an ERA of 2.64.
A crowd of 42,782 saw Belcher shake off a sinus infection to strike out 10 and allow only four hits over the first eight innings Thursday night, yielding the Astros' only run in the fourth on a single by Louie Meadows, a stolen base, and a single by Bill Doran.
Jay Howell pitched two shutout innings before John Wetteland, who earned his first major league save Monday night, gained his first major league victory by pitching a scoreless 11th.
The Astros, who had made a specialty of winning close games, going 9-4 in extra innings and 20-11 in games decided by one run, had only six hits. The three Dodger pitchers struck out 12 and walked one.
The Dodgers got only seven hits but benefited from seven walks and the speed of their new leadoff hitter. Gibson, on base 14 times in his five games in that role, reached Thursday night on two walks, a fielder's choice and an infield single that helped tie the game, 1-1, in the eighth.
Dan Schatzeder walked Alfredo Griffin to open that inning after 39-year-old Bob Forsch had shut out the Dodgers on four hits through seven.
A sacrifice by Dave Anderson, batting for Belcher, moved Griffin to second.
Gibson then hit a slow chopper that the charging Doran fielded. Doran looked at first base and saw he had no play on Gibson then wheeled toward third and fired across the diamond attempting to catch Griffin in a wide turn.
The throw was wide and low, however, and bounced into the Dodger dugout as Griffin trotted home with the tying run.
"Speed did it again," Manager Tom Lasorda said, alluding to Gibson's hustle in taking the play away from Doran and forcing the error. "I mean, I've never seen anyone get down the line like he does."
Left-hander Juan Agosto was the Houston pitcher in the 11th, which Stubbs opened with a looping single to left. Stubbs had replaced Eddie Murray at first base in the top of the inning when Lasorda did a double switch involving his pitcher's place in the batting order.
The infrequently used Stubbs had been hitless in his only four at-bats against left-handers this year. He had also stolen only one base before taking advantage of Agosto's breaking ball repertoire to steal second and then move to third on Mike Scioscia's groundout to the right side.
Jeff Hamilton was walked intentionally, and Duncan then batted for John Shelby. It was Duncan's first at-bat since May 26 and first game action since May 27, when he cut and sprained his right hand fielding a ground ball against the New York Mets.
He came off the 15-day disabled list Monday, which weighed on Houston Manager Art Howe as he decided whether to walk Duncan with a base empty.
"I don't like to force the pitcher to work with the bases loaded and I figured that since he hadn't played in a while he might be rusty," Howe said. "I guess he wasn't."
Duncan jumped on the first pitch and rammed it to the warning track in center field, a double or triple normally but a single in the game-ending situation.
Lasorda had come down from the third base coaching box to tell Duncan to be alert for a squeeze sign ("We were going to get that run in some way," the manager said later), but when he didn't get it, Duncan said he looked "for a pitch I could drive" and did get that.
"I've been coming out early, taking extra batting practice," he said. "The hand is 100% and I've been hitting good even though I haven't played in about 20 days."
He added that the real hero was Scioscia for advancing the runner, though coach Joe Ferguson had an early premonition as to whom the hero would be.
"He came over to me in about the seventh or eighth inning and said he had a feeling that I would do it tonight," Duncan said, having made a prophet of the coach.
Eddie Murray struck out twice and was hitless in five at-bats, stranding seven runners Thursday night. He has only four hits in his last 47 at-bats and has not hit a home run in 30 games, a span of 110 at-bats. Murray is hitting .226. He was at .307 on May 3. . . . John Shelby's struggle continued as well. He grounded into two double plays and struck out for the 51st time as his average fell to .161. . . . Houston shortstop Rafael Ramirez left the game in the third inning with a sprained left wrist suffered on a tag play at second base.