SAN DIEGO — It seems that for these Dodgers, even the miracles have dried up.
Dragging toward the halfway point of a season that seems twice that long, the Dodgers stumbled Tuesday night over the one element from 1988 that never seemed to fail them--their magic.
They lost, 2-0, to the San Diego Padres and pitcher Bruce Hurst before 25,746 at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, despite starting rallies in both the eighth and ninth innings.
"Hard times," catcher Rick Dempsey said. "Hard times."
They had their chances, but could not capitalize.
In the ninth inning with two out, Mickey Hatcher singled up the middle. Dempsey then hit a line drive under the glove of third baseman Luis Salazar, moving Hatcher to third base. Dempsey reached second on the play.
But Alfredo Griffin flied to right fielder Tony Gwynn for the final out, giving Hurst a six-hitter and his first National League shutout.
"The guy who can put a finger on what is happening to us and how to stop it, he could make a jillion, jillion dollars," Dempsey said.
In the eighth inning, the Dodgers rallied with two out. Jose Gonzalez looped a ball to shallow right field for a single, but rounded first and never stopped running. A surprised Gwynn fumbled the ball and Gonzalez safely reached second for a double. Three pitches later, Willie Randolph, who at that point had battered Hurst for a .400-career average (28 for 70), hit a groundball into the hole between shortstop and third base. Garry Templeton stopped the ball, but couldn't throw in time to make a play.
Up stepped Kirk Gibson, who took the count to 3-and-0. Hurst then threw two called strikes. Up to then, Hurst had thrown nothing but fastballs and changeups.
"So I decided to try something different," Hurst said of the full- count pitch. "I figured I would throw him a curve. The first curve I threw Gibson all night. A do or die pitch."
The ball started at Gibson's shoulder and then dipped across the strike zone with such an arc that it may not have been a strike. But it was close enough for home plate umpire Jerry Layne, who called a frozen Gibson out to end the inning.
"There wasn't a person on the face of the earth who wouldn't have been surprised by that pitch," Gibson said.
And so it is the Dodgers who have been surprised, twice in a row by the Padres, who won Monday's game, 5-1, with two homers off starter Orel Hershiser.
After 69 games, the Dodgers (34-35) are 7 1/2 games out of first place in the National League West, further back then they have been all year.
"It's not like we are quitting or anything, that would be a different story," Hatcher said. "Everybody is trying . . . and nothing is working."
Hatcher made a fine play in the seventh inning when he flagged down Gwynn's flyball and crashed into the right-field fence. In his first action since going on the disabled list June 4 with a strained left hamstring, Hatcher had a second-inning single to right, and then reached base again in the fifth on a hard grounder that went between second baseman Roberto Alomar's legs.
Hatcher is right, nothing is working, not even the starting pitching on Tuesday.
Starter Tim Belcher allowed two runs on five hits and four walks in only four innings to fall to 4-6 with a 3.22 earned-run average. Hurst, meanwhile, improved to 6-5 with a 3.03 ERA. He has pitched 19 consecutive scoreless innings.
Belcher, who was in trouble before the Padres had sent three batters to the plate, never had control of the game. In the first two innings, he worked out of that trouble. But by the third inning, it caught up with him. In the fourth, he was knocked out of the game.
After allowing five baserunners in the first two innings, Belcher walked Gwynn to lead off the third, perhaps not the worst scenario against the league's leading hitter. But Belcher had been pitching to every Padre as if he were the league's best. After Marvell Wynne's grounder to shortstop moved Gwynn to second, Templeton, with 12 RBIs at the time, drove a ball into the right-center field gap for a double to score Gwynn. Hatcher bobbled the ball for an error and Templeton ended up at third. A grounder to shortstop by Benito Santiago saved Belcher for this inning, but not for good.
In the fourth inning, Belcher gave up a leadoff single to Salazar and one out later, a walk to Shawn Abner. The runners advanced on a wild pitch and a fly ball from Alomar scored Salazar to give the Padres a 2-0 lead.
"Everybody is pressing around here," Dempsey said. "and it shows."