The Padres' curiosity was aroused. They had heard the talk. Read the box scores. But, could it really be?
"Hey, with that guy, we knew anything was possible," Padre right fielder Tony Gwynn said. "We didn't think he could still be the same pitcher we were used to seeing, but with what he's done lately, I think we were anxious to see how he'd do?"
Yes, it has been nearly a decade since a 20-year-old kid from Sonora, Mexico, emerged on the major league scene and became the creator of what is known as Fernandomania.
The Padres knew that the innings and years had taken a toll on his left arm, but with Valenzuela winning four consecutive games after going 51 weeks without a victory, they wondered if the real Fernando was back to haunt them.
"We all know what he's capable of doing," Gwynn said. "He's a guy that if you get just one hit off him, go one for four, you felt great."
So you can imagine the Padres' ecstasy Thursday night when they came away with a 5-3 victory over the Dodgers, completing a three-game sweep over their most-intense rivals.
"This is exactly what we were looking for," Padre Manager Jack McKeon said. "We couldn't ask for a better start for a road trip. Maybe this is what we've been waiting for for so long. "I know this much; we're sure the hell due."
The Padres (39-40) took sole possession of fourth place, winning their fourth consecutive game for the first time since they won five straight May 15-20.
Of course, playing against the Dodgers, the Padres are beginning to feel like the '27 Yankees. The Padres have won five of six games against the Dodgers in the past 11 days.
And for the only the second time in the last four years, they even managed to beat Fernando.
"You're not seeing the real Fernando," Padre pitcher Ed Whitson said. "I remember when I was with the Pirates, he had just come up and won three or four straight games when we came to town. Dave Parker said, 'Hey, let's take care of this so-called phenom everybody's talking about.'
"Well, he struck out three times and hit about a 19-hopper to the mound in his last at-bat. Parker comes back to the dugout and says, 'Hey, how can I hit him? The guy's a phenom.' "
Though the score indicates otherwise, the Padres hardly ripped into Valenzuela on this night either, benefiting instead from the Dodgers' comedy of errors.
The Padres scored only two earned runs, and one was on a wild pitch by Valenzuela.
It was that kind of night.
But with the way the Padres have been swinging of late, they're grateful just to reach base.
Tying the game in the second inning on Valenzuela's wild pitch, the Padres put together an offensive bonanza in the fourth inning when they scored three runs on one single.
Gwynn led off the inning with a single to left field, and the biggest contribution by his teammates was suppressing their giggling the rest of the inning.
Valenzuela did not allow a ball out of the infield during this vaunted Padre attack, but with the kind of support he was receiving behind him, no one would have blamed him if he had got up and left in the middle of the inning pleading, "No mas, no mas."
He hardly was blameless in the Dodgers' defensive collapse as he suddenly had a fit of wildness. He walked Jack Clark after Gwynn's single, but when Chris James laid down a bunt right in front of the mound, Valenzuela wheeled and threw in time to get Gwynn at third. But third baseman Jeff Hamilton dropped the ball, and umpire Bruce Froemming had to change his call.
With the bases loaded, Valenzuela got his only break of the inning when Garry Templeton grounded a 2-0 pitch to Hamilton, who threw to home for the force out.
Then Valenzuela walked Benito Santiago on a full count when his screwball just missed to force in a run.
Pitching coach Ron Perranoski went to the mound for a chat, and whatever he said seemed to work as Shawn Abner hit an apparent double-play ball to shortstop Alfredo Griffin. Griffin did everything right by flipping the ball to Mariano Duncan for the second out, but Duncan's throw to first baseman Eddie Murray skipped in the dirt. When Murray was unable to come up with the scoop, Abner reached first and James and Templeton scored for a 4-1 lead.
That was enough for Padre pitcher Dennis Rasmussen to win his first game in 40 days and 40 nights.
Rasmussen (3-4) had last won May 20 at Philadelphia, and his only other victory of the season occurred April 7 at Houston. But ever since donning a Padre uniform, there's something about this place that Rasmussen loves. He has a 3-0 record in three starts as a Padre at Dodger Stadium.
Once again, however, the Padres managed to keep it interesting for those of the 36,128 who remained in the ninth inning.
After retiring Jose Gonzales in the ninth, Rasmussen surrendered back-to-back singles to John Shelby and Rick Dempsey. McKeon, not bothering to see if Rasmussen could pitch his first complete-game since Oct. 2, 1988, called upon Mark Davis.