Never one to rest on his milestones, Rick Dempsey put his four-decade career in perspective earlier this week.
"It seems like four decades since I've started back-to-back games," he said.
It may not seem that way for long. In only his fourth start of the season Friday, the backup catcher forced the Dodgers to give this old man one more good look.
Dempsey pulled a surprise by hitting a home run in the third inning, and then hit another one in the fifth, leading the Dodgers over the Phillies, 4-2, before 34,274 at Dodger Stadium.
But this game not only featured something old, it had something new--the first appearance by reliever Jay Howell who had been out since April 21 after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.
In sealing the Dodgers' fourth consecutive victory, a season-high streak, Howell gave up only one hit in the final two innings. He earned his first save of the season in protecting the win for Tim Belcher, who struggled but still allowed just two runs in seven innings.
How big was this night for Howell? He actually showed emotion afterward, forcefully slapping his bare hand against his glove. It was a feeling he rarely revealed even last year while setting a Dodger record with 28 saves.
But if anything could have overshadowed Howell's return it was Dempsey, 40, who had his most powerful offensive game in four years, and it may have earned him a back-to-back start. Usually, he starts only against left-handed pitchers, and tonight's Phillie starting pitcher, Dennis Cook, is a left-hander.
The last time Dempsey hit two homers in one game was April 10, 1986, when he did it for Baltimore against Texas. The homer, his first two of the season, also equaled half of his total home run output last year. His two RBIs were also his first of the season.
Technically, the homers did not win the game. His first homer, off Phillies' starter and loser Bruce Ruffin, gave the Dodgers a 1-0 lead in the third inning. After Belcher allowed two Phillies' runs in the fourth, Dempsey's second homer tied it in the fifth.
The Dodger got the go-ahead run later in the fifth, after they loaded the bases on an infield single, a Belcher bunt that was allowed to stop on the first-base foul line by first baseman Ricky Jordan, and an intentional walk to Eddie Murray. Kal Daniels followed with a grounder to the first baseman to score the go-ahead run.
The Dodgers added another run in the sixth inning on more Phillies' foibles in the sixth. Mike Sharperson singled to center, stole second and took third on catcher Steve Lake's passed ball. He then scored when Lake threw a blown suicide squeeze bunt attempt by Alfredo Griffin through Dickie Thon's legs at third base, allowing the trapped Sharperson to trot home.
All of which made Tim Belcher very happy. Belcher entered having lost three of his last four starts, and with a 4.25 ERA. And he didn't appear to be much improved.
True, he allowed just a couple of runs on six hits. But of his 115 pitches, nearly half, 50, were balls. He did not seem to throw the ball hard when he tried, and often appeared to attack hitters with breaking balls.
After allowing a walk in the first inning, and a single in the second inning, he made a complete mess of the fourth inning, in which the Phillies took their brief 2-1 lead.
With one out, Jordan doubled to left. Belcher then walked John Kruk. A low pitch that Dempsey mishandled moved the runners to second and third. Charlie Hayes' groundout scored one run, and Thon's single scored another run. Belcher then loaded the bases on a Lake single and a walk to Ruffin. Only a fly-ball out to left field by Len Dykstra saved him.
Ruffin, attempting a comeback this season after three poor years, is struggling again. He entered at 2-3 with a 4.43 ERA, and didn't look much better in this game.
Of the 22 hitters the left-hander faced, 11 hit the ball in the air and hard. In his 4 2/3 innings, he allowed three runs on six hits and was fortunate to be trailing only 3-2 when he departed.
After ending each of his last three major league seasons with an ERA of above 4.00, Ruffin has a 4.63 ERA and 15 unintentional walks against only 14 strikeouts.
The trade that sent Willie Randolph to Oakland for Stan Javier continued to have clubhouse reverberations Friday when outfielder Jose Gonzalez said he might ask to be traded. Gonzalez said he is upset because Javier's addition seems to mean he is no longer wanted or needed here. "What am I doing here?" Gonzalez asked. "They keep moving everybody around, but I'm not going anywhere. It's like they are writing my name on the wall saying, 'Forget about him.' I hope things get better for me, or maybe I should ask for a change."
Monty Basgall, former Dodger coach known for helping players such as Bill Russell and Davey Lopes switch positions, flew in from his Sierra Vista, Ariz., home. He will be with the team for three days, taking special notice of Juan Samuel, who earlier this week returned to second base after a 16-month hiatus in center field.
Insiders say that when Kirk Gibson gets angry with himself in the batting cage, he is getting close to returning. If that is the case, Gibson is very close. He barked at himself several times Friday during another impressive 15-minute batting practice.