The Dodgers beat Houston again today, this time 2-1 on Steve Garvey's 25th home run and the seven-hit pitching of Jerry Reuss, a left-hander who said, "You can hear the tension here. I loved it. Loved every minute of it. I even stopped working to turn around and experience it. Loved it."

Here in the land of casual chic, the natives suddenly are going bonkers over a pennant race that seemed dead a week ago. With two straight one-run victories over the first-place Astros, the Dodgers now need only a victory Sunday afternoon to force a one-game playoff Monday for the National League West championship.

Garvey sent a mediocre Nolan Ryan fastball into the left field bullpen in the bottom of the fourth inning putting the Dodgers up, 2-1, and that's how it stood in the ninth when Reuss faced Gary Woods with two out and men on first and third.

"What did we have here today, 46,000 people?" asked Reuss, a blithe spirit.

"In the ninth. I looked around and there wasn't anybody sitting down. Just loved it."

Woods, an overmatched rookie with only 50 major league at bats, struck out his first three times against Reuss, who carried a 17-6 record and 2.58 earned run average into this live-or-die game. On a fastball away from home, Woods grounded weakly to second baseman Jack Perconte in the hole to end it.

And now the Astros, who came to town loosey-goosey, are wondering.

They are wondering if that is smog -- the air is practically chewable here this week in the late stages of a smog alert -- or an evil black cloud hanging over Dodger Stadium.

The Astros' best chance to catch the Dodgers today failed when Joe Morgan's line drive sank within reach of leaping second baseman Davey Lopes. mLopes then doubled a runner off second to end the fifth inning.

"It's like a black cloud is over us," Morgan said. "Normally, if I hit the ball that hard, it rises. But that one sank because I can't put any weight on my back leg."

Morgan's left knee, which he twisted escaping a pickoff throw Friday night, also was a factor in the Dodgers' second-inning run. Slow retreating, Morgan couldn't catch Garvey's bloop to right. "I catch it in my hip pocket two days ago," Morgan said.

Four hitters later, Darrell Thomas slapped a double down left fieldfield line to score Garvey. "The pitch to Thomas was a selection mistake," and Ryan, who struck out nine and walked none in a masterful seven inning job. "I wanted the pitch there, but he just went with it nicely. The Garvey pitch, I had no velocity on it and it was out and over the plate.

Houston tied it at 1-1 in the fourth. After Jose Cruz singled and stole second, Art Howe drove him in with a bloop single to center that fell in front of stumbling Pete Guerrero.

"I lost it in the smog," the center fielder said semiseriously. "The smog and the white shirts."

If Morgan sees evil in the smoggy air, a little old Band-Aid is enough to worry Vern Ruhle. He is to pitch for the Astros against Burt Hooton in Sunday's regular season finale. Houston's best pitcher the last month, owner of a 12-4 record and a 241 ERA, Ruhle tore open the tip of the index finger on his throwing hand during Friday's game. He had a Band-Aid on it today.

"My only concern is that throwing the ball will rip the flap of skin loose again," said Ruhle, who cut himself on a nailhead when he reached for a towel." I can't wear a Band-Aid, but will do something to keep the skin down. If I warm up and see I can't throw, I'll concede it."

The probable replacement would be Juaquin Andujar (3-8, 3.90), followed by a parade of relief pitchers.