The Dodgers won the National League West playoff today because Jerry Reuss allowed the Astros only five hits in a 4-0 masterpiece, and because Steve Garvey won a high-noon shootout with Nolan Ryan, and, yes, because winds moved the smog out to the ocean, revealing a strange, orange orb in the sky.
For the third straight time and the 14th in 16 meetings here, the Dodgers beat the inoffensive Astros, who scored only two runs after winning the first two playoff games. The Dodgers' brilliant pitching -- Burt Hooton, Fernando Valenzuela and Reuss gave up only 12 hits here -- now will be tested by Montreal in the league championship series beginning here Tuesday.
Reuss won without his best stuff. The left-hander built his 10-4 record and 2.29 earned run average on low fast balls. Today, admittedly hyperemotional and looking for retribution for last year's playoff loss to Houston, Reuss often sailed his hard stuff high.
No matter. These Astros couldn't get two hits in any inning. Only once did they get a runner to third base, and only twice did they have two runners. For the five-game playoffs, the Astros hit .179.
"Mostly fast balls," Reuss said, describing his work. "Seven or eight curves, no changeups, no tricks. I was very keyed up early, and I was trying to throw too hard. But the last three innings, I settled down."
Houston threatened only in the sixth inning of a scoreless game. Reuss walked two men around Art Howe's single. But one man was out stealing, and Reuss escaped by getting Denny Walling on a foul pop-up and Dickie Thon on a feeble grounder.
Asked what settled him down after that inning, Reuss said: "Three runs."
The runs came in the Dodger sixth, as delicious an inning as any baseball aficionado could want.
Step right up, ball fans, we have deep-think baseball. And we have gamesmanship. And we have a who'll-blink-first duel between future Hall of Famers. Yes, step right up, here in smogland we have a rare appearance by the sun in time to help the Dodgers win.
It is too simple to say the Dodgers scored three runs off Ryan with a walk to Dusty Baker and singles by Garvey, Rick Monday and Mike Scioscia, followed by an error.
This begins in the first inning, really, when Garvey, swinging as Baker was stealing second, grounded out to short. Garvey is such a good hit-and-run man the Dodgers often move runners for him. In the dugout, Garvey asked Baker which Astro covered second on the steal.
"Shortstop," Baker said, and Garvey filed away the data.
In the sixth, Garvey's third time up, again with Baker running from first . . .
Wait a second, ball fans. Some necessary background: Baker walked after fouling off three 3-and-2 pitches from Ryan, who had a one-hitter working. One of Baker's fouls should have been caught by second baseman Phil Garner behind first.
That's where the wind and sun come in. A dazzling sun shone straight down into Dodger Stadium. Garvey let a foul drop in the fifth because he lost it in the glare. Garner saw LA second baseman Davey Lopes try to grab that one, only to overrun it.
"The wind brought it back over Davey's head, I thought," Garner said. "So when Baker's went up, I put my head down -- I didn't want to look into the sun before I had to -- and ran to where it would come down. Only the wind blew it the other way. I saw it all the way. I just didn't get to it."
Now, back to Garvey at bat in the sixth, the fast ball hitter against Ryan, the fast ball pitcher . . .
Garvey asked that a new ball be put into play.
"It's hard enough to see the white ones when Ryan is throwing, let alone the dark ones," Garvey the gamesman said. "You're also looking for a psychological advantage. You want the pitcher thinking."
Ryan, 14 years at this, asked for a new ball on his own. He paced around the mound, making Garvey wait. It is his world, Ryan in charge. Nothing happens until he decides. High noon in the sun at Dodger Stadium.
Baker ran on three straight pitches to Garvey. Two fast balls were fouled off.
"Then he came with a slider," Garvey said. "I got it through the infield."
He got it through because of what he learned from Baker in the first inning. Garvey knew the shortstop would be moving toward second.
Garvey's grounder rolled through the hole.
"It was a good pitch," Ryan said, "and he didn't hit it hard. But give Garvey credit. He hit it where he should have. That whole inning, the only pitch I was disappointed in was the one to Monday. I wanted a fast ball up and in, and I got it down and in. He's a good low-ball hitter and he was able to push it over the infield."
Garvey's single moved Baker to third, and Monday's single made it 1-0. After Ryan retired Pedro Guerrero on an infield pop-up, Scioscia lined a high curve up the middle. That scored Garvey, and Monday came across for a 3-0 lead when first baseman Walling dropped the ball in a bump with Russell.
Ryan left for a pinch hitter in the seventh, and the Dodgers reached relievers Dave Smith and Frank LaCorte for a double by Ken Landreaux and a triple by Garvey.
With a 4-0 lead, Reuss racked up three of his four strikeouts in the last two innings.