SAN FRANCISCO — After trembling for weeks under the strain of the Atlanta Braves, the Dodgers' great expectations collapsed upon them Saturday, leaving a once-proud team broken and numb.
After leading the National League West Division for 133 of 179 days, the Dodgers will spend every day until next April in second place. For a second consecutive day, they could not beat the fourth-place San Francisco Giants in a game upon which their season depended.
The final score was 4-0. The final sound was laughter.
"Do I feel sorry for the Dodgers?" asked the Giants' Will Clark. "Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha . . . "
In the ninth inning Saturday, with fans wearing cardboard headdresses dancing on their dugout, the Dodgers stared at the left-field scoreboard as it relayed news of the Braves' victory over the Houston Astros.
Moments later, Eddie Murray grounded to second baseman Robby Thompson to end this game.
The Braves had a two-game lead with one game remaining.
The results of this simple math stunned the Dodgers so much that several of them could not bear to leave the dugout.
"I didn't let myself feel anything all year long, then when I saw the Braves win and us lose . . . it was like a huge weight had just landed on me," pitcher Bob Ojeda said. "I think it's a weight that is going to stay with me."
With the best record in baseball at the All-Star break, with a six-game lead on July 28, the Dodgers saw that lead dwindle and finally vanish.
The last team to lose so much ground so quickly was the 1962 Dodgers, who were in first place by 5 1/2 games on Aug. 9 and eventually finished second to the Giants.
The last person to leave the field Saturday, more than 10 minutes after the end of the game, was the first person the Dodgers sent to the plate this season. Brett Butler trudged across the outfield grass to the clubhouse, accompanied only by police officers and swirling trash.
"I didn't believe it when the game ended, and I still don't believe it," said Butler, who lives in Atlanta. "One more game and I have to go home? The one reason I came to Los Angeles was because I thought we were going to win.
"Now when I get home, I'm going to hear about it all winter. All winter."
It appeared no weight will be larger than the one carried by Manager Tom Lasorda.
Long after every player had left the clubhouse, he was still wearing his baseball pants and trying to understand.
"It's like walking down the street and finding $1,000 in an envelope," Lasorda said. "You keep walking and walking, you go about 15 blocks, then when you get to your doorstep, somebody taps you on the shoulder.
" 'Buddy,' he says, 'you've got my money.' "
The Dodgers led the Braves by 9 1/2 games at the All-Star break. By six games on July 28. By two games with eight games remaining. By one game with four games remaining.
But they gave up six runs and five infield hits in the eighth inning Wednesday and lost to the San Diego Padres. The race was suddenly tied.
"That's when our bubble burst." Lenny Harris said.
Then Ramon Martinez gave up two home runs in the first inning and the offense left nine men on base in a loss to the Giants Friday. The Braves took a one-game lead.
"We knew it would be tough to win here, but we didn't know \o7 how \f7 tough until after that game," Butler said.
Then Saturday, before 42,712 Candlestick Park fans who acted like a wilder version of Atlanta fans with a tomahawk chop and war cries filled with curses, the Dodgers spent nine innings ducking.
The offense managed only two singles against left-hander Trevor Wilson, who has given up two runs in 29 innings against them this year.
The defense embarrassed starter Mike Morgan with two errors, a bad throw, and bad footwork that led to all four runs.
"It's like I've been saying all along--when you get in a race you need extra desire to win," said Darryl Strawberry, who seemed angrier than most.
"You just cannot go through the motions out there. Next year, people are going to hear more from me about that."
Strawberry should also be mad at himself. Besides going hitless in four at-bats with two strikeouts, making him hitless with three strikeouts in this last seven at-bats, he made a bonehead play in right field.
With one out in the fourth inning of a scoreless tie, Clark hit a ball into the right-field corner.
"Routine double," Clark said.
Except Strawberry threw the ball high over the head of cutoff man Juan Samuel. Clark took third, and scored on a single by Matt Williams to give the Giants the lead.
"I was more surprised than anyone else," Strawberry said.
Gary Carter, in what might be his last game as a Dodger, made the mistakes in the sixth inning, when the Giants scored two unearned runs and added another run to finalize the score.
After watching Willie McGee steal second base because he couldn't get the ball out of his glove, Carter then watched McGee score on Williams' single to center because Carter was standing on the wrong side of the plate when he took the throw.