Dusty Baker hit a ball hard once, but he forgets when, and so today he made a diving catch to help the Dodgers beat the Expos, 5-1, in the first game of the National League championship series.
"Gotta make up for my hitting with other aspects," Baker said, explaining his flat-out dive, 9.5 degree of difficulty, that discouraged Montreal's idea it could overcome the lead built by a penguin with a broken wing.
Ron Cey, "Penguin" to the Dodgers because he walks like a bird in a tuxedo, sent a run-scoring double to right field his first at bat since a pitch broke his wrist last month. A minute later Cey scored on a suicide squeeze, making it 2-0 in the second inning.
With Burt Hooton creating a survivalist's masterpiece on the mound, the Dodgers still led by those runs in the eighth.
"I didn't have exceptional stuff," Hooton confessed after giving up six hits, "but I made some bad pitches that didn't hurt me and some good pitches that helped me."
This ambiguity makes managers lose their hair, and so Tommy Lasorda replaced Hooton when Tim Raines singled with one out in the eighth. Reliefer Bob Welch struck out Rodney Scott with a fast ball so fast Scott needed an AWACS to spot it.
Andre Dawson was next for the Astros, and breathes there no pitcher who wants Dawson up there ready to make him look silly. The guy hits balls into other countries.
Baker knew about Dawson's 24 home runs this short season.
"Strong as Dawson is, and he is awesome," Baker said, "the thing for me to do is play deeeeeep and play him to pull, because I knew he was trying to hit it out of the ballpark."
On Welch's first pitch, a curve ball breaking to the low outside corner, Dawson moved a ton of smog with his bat. The big swing fooled Baker at first.
"If he'd hit it solid, swinging that way, it'd have been gone," Baker said. "But he must have hit it on the end of the bat."
"Yes, out on the end," Dawson said wistfully.
For a moment, Dodger loyalists waited in apprehensive silence, not knowing whether Dawson's dying liner would fall for a single, a double -- or would Baker somehow catch it?
"I didn't know, either, until the ball seemed to be hanging up there. I'm just glad it was on grass instead of Astroturf."
"Because I wouldn't have any skin left," Baker said, laughing.
Skidding on Dodger Stadium's lush turf with the ball held high, Baker ended that inning. Soon enough the Dodgers had a 5-0 lead.
Not that Baker helped there. A .320 hitter this season and a solid .280 for a decade, he is stuck at .143 for six playoff games. The Dodger victories are testimony to brilliant pitching that has given up three runs the last four games.
Cey helped the pitchers, with that first-inning double scoring Steve Garvey, who had singled off Bill Gullickson.
"I made some bad pitches in the second inning," Gullickson said, "and one was the 3-and-2 fast ball to Cey. I wanted it inside, but I threw it outside."
Cey, who paused on his way to the batter's box to savor a standing ovation, lashed the mistake into the right field corner. Later, working the suicide squeeze for the fourth time this season with Cey the runner, Bill Russell put down a bunt on a 2-and-0 high slider.
"I didn't feel any pain at all," Cey said of the wrist out of a cast only two weeks now. "I felt confident, I felt great. I had a lot of little boy in me today."
In the eighth, the memory of Baker's catch fresh, Cey singled to center with two out. By now the Dodgers worked against Montreal's star reliever, right-hander Jeff Reardon. Then Lasorda's move to use Cey at third and send Pedro Guerrero to right in place of Rick Monday was justified in style.
Even though Monday is a left-handed hitter, Lasorda likes Guerrero, a right-hander, against all comers. Reardon challenged Guerrero with a fast ball on the hands. Guerrero planted it in the left field seats.
"Boom!" Guerrero explained. It was 4-0.
Boom-boom. Mike Scioscia hit Reardon's next pitch over the right field fence. It was 5-0.
"Right down the middle," Scioscia said gratefully, and when someone asked if the Expos showed the strain of having lost 19 of the 20 games here, Scioscia twisted the knife by saying, "They might be pressing a little bit. You can see them trying too hard."
Even with that lead, Lasorda grew nervous when Welch gave up successive doubles to Gary Carter and Larry Parrish beginning the ninth inning. It was 5-1.
Steve Howe, a left-hander, replaced Welch. After a single by Warren Cromartie, Howe got Jerry White on a pop-up and forced Chris Speier into a game-ending double play, the Dodgers' fourth double play of the day.
One double play was especially embarrassing, as White streaked from second toward home on a line drive that was caught easily in right.
"A bad play on my part -- it looked like a base hit to me," White said, perhaps proving Scioscia's point.
Carter, the Expo catcher, said of that 18-in-19 record, "There is a certain magic about these guys here. It's amazing how they get some bloopers to fall in when they need them."
Since Carter brought up amazing, he was asked about the Dodgers' Game 2 pitcher, Fernando Valenzuela, who will go against Ray Burris, a phenomenon against a mediocrity.
"Fernando is not invincible," Carter said.
Right. The Expos, in 18 innings against Valenzuela, have amassed three runs on eight hits. Valenzuela has walked one man and struck out 14.