CINCINNATI — Of the many apparent differences between starting pitching and late-inning relief pitching, Tim Belcher will be the first to tell you there is really only one.
Starters make a bad pitch and calmly call it a mistake.
A late-inning reliever makes a bad pitch and calls it a loss.
Then it's all he can do to keep from screaming.
"I made a bad pitch to lose a game, that's all I got to say," Belcher barked behind a red face Monday night after allowing a two-run home run to the second batter he faced, previously homer-less Bo Diaz, which gave the Cincinnati Reds a 5-3 victory in front of 23,727 at Riverfront Stadium.
"He hit the pitch at the wrong time, the wrong place, no excuses," Belcher said. "It was the pitch that cost us the game. I had plenty of time to warm up. I had plenty of time to do everything. I knew who the hitter was, I knew what the count was. My only excuse was ignorance. I'm human. I'm fallible."
So many reasons for his anger, not the least of which was that the Dodgers blew a 3-0 lead and a chance to take three of four games from the Reds. Instead, despite 52 total hits in those games, they only split the series and wound up 3-4 on the trip. It's not the best of circumstances in which they return to Dodger Stadium to begin a seven-game home stand tonight against the San Diego Padres.
Belcher entered Monday's game at the start of the seventh inning. The score was 3-3. Tim Leary, who began with five shutout innings, allowed a three-run homer to Paul O'Neill in the sixth.
What the Dodgers needed from the bullpen was a savior. Belcher, only two days removed from the news that he has been shipped out of the starting rotation and into a reliever role, was it.
The first batter was Todd Benzinger, who had grounded out and flied out and basically played the game like the .248 hitter he was when it started. Belcher walked him.
The next batter was Diaz, a part-time catcher who only had 19 hits this season. None of them were homers. In fact, he had not homered since last Aug. 16. So like any good .183 hitter, he tried to bunt. He failed, for strike one. Belcher worked the count on Diaz to 1-and-2.
And then it was gone, with Diaz hitting a ball that disappeared over the left-center field fence, turning the Reds' dugout into a jumping maze of white and red.
"I played this like a World Series game. I did not want to lose this game," said Red Manager Pete Rose, whose third-place team moved three games in front of the fourth-place Dodgers. "The atmosphere has not been real good around here lately. We've been playing spotty baseball. We needed this one."
And Belcher certainly didn't need this one, considering his earlier move to the bullpen for the first time since last season did not exactly send him into cartwheels.
He did well in his first relief appearance in Saturday's 10-3 victory, throwing three shutout innings for his first save. But even at that, he described his new role with, "Hey, it's a job" and expressed hope that he will soon return to the rotation.
Depending on possible trades, that return from the bullpen is not unlikely. But for now, Belcher has taken his first hard step to getting used to it.
"There's a lot of different aspects to starting and relieving," explained Leary, who has done both in the same season. "For one thing, there's the mental aspect--as a starter, you know your routine, and when you are going to pitch, and you can get comfortable. As a reliever, you can never know.
"Then there's the fact that as a reliever, you come in when the game is on the line. As a starter, you can lead off the inning by giving up a couple of hits and get out of a jam. As a reliever, you can't."
That last part is what got Belcher Monday. Not that he can't get used to it.
"I don't know how much tougher it is if you get your mind to it," Leary said.
The Dodgers promised that despite the loss, which dropped Belcher to 4-7, he will have plenty of opportunities to get his mind to it.
"We're going to find how he comes back from this tomorrow, or as soon as we can get him back in there," pitching coach Ron Perranoski said. "Something like this, you don't wait. You let him go right back after it."
It's a bit odd to be focusing the story of a Dodger defeat on the team's league-best pitching, but that shows what the hitting has done lately, including Monday. The offense struck for 12 more hits, including Kirk Gibson's two-run homer in the first inning, his eighth, which broke a two-for-26 slump.
Maybe the Dodgers could have finished off Red starter Rick Mahler in the fourth, when they put together three hits and a walk but could only get one run, on Jeff Hamilton's RBI single. The rally was squashed when, on a one-out infield single by Alfredo Griffin that apparently loaded the bases, Mike Davis overran third and was tagged out by shortstop Barry Larkin.
"That made the difference," Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda said. "We had them on the ropes, but we couldn't put them away."