The Los Angeles Dodgers' offense came back to life tonight and brought with it the National League West pennant race.
The Dodgers shattered an eight-game losing streak and offensive stagnation tonight defeating the Atlanta Braves, 10-3, before 49,926 at Dodger Stadium.
Consequently, the Braves' lead was pared to one game over the Dodgers and San Francisco, which rallied in the bottom of the ninth to defeat Houston, 7-6, tonight to remain tied with Los Angeles.
A week ago, the Braves trailed the Dodgers by three games.
After scoring just 16 runs in the eight-game free-fall, their longest losing streak since 1973 that brought about the reversal in the standings, the Dodgers punished six Atlanta pitchers with 14 hits tonight.
The Dodgers expanded a 5-3 lead to an insurmountable 9-3 in the seventh inning, sending eight hitters to bat. The emphatic hits were Ken Landreaux's run-scoring double, Dusty Baker's two-run single and pinch hitter Jose Morales' run-scoring single.
Perhaps for further emphasis that they are, after all, the defending world champions, Steve Sax drilled a run-scoring double in the eighth.
So for the first time since their last win on Sept. 19, the Dodger explosions were not reserved for Manager Tommy Lasorda's postgame reviews.
"If we hadn't won tonight," said Lasorda, "it would have been pretty tough. I'm very proud of the players."
Recently, the local criticism of the Dodgers reached the same frozen temperature as the Los Angeles offense. "This is a town full of harsh criticism," said Baker. "We're expected to win and when we don't, we're criticized. We can deal with it."
The Braves did not seem to have problems dealing with this defeat. As postgame fireworks exploded in the stadium, Atlanta Manager Joe Torre said, "If someone had told me on Aug. 1 that we'd be one up with three games to go, I would have loved it."
In the Atlanta locker room, which was hardly solemn, third baseman Jerry Royster said, "When you're up by a game with three to go, it's not a time to be depressed. We'd rather play the Padres than the Giants (who Los Angeles will face in the final weekend series) now, anyway."
When the game was over, the crowd chanted "Garvey! Garvey! Garvey!" for the Dodger first baseman, who collected three hits in his 1,104th consecutive game.
Many people feel this appearance, which moved Garvey past Joe Sewell into fourth place on the all-time list, might be Garvey's last here as a Dodger. He does not have a contract for next year and negotiations with the Dodgers have stalled.
Tonight, Joe Beckwith (3-1) pitched 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, his first appearance in a game with the Dodgers leading since Aug. 9.
The Dodgers scored three runs in the third inning to take a 4-2 lead.
In the third inning, Bill Russell opened with a single and was sacrificed to second. Sax grounded a single to right and Russell stopped at third -- but only until right fielder Claudell Washington threw the ball to the backstop. As Russell scored the run that made it 2-2, Sax sped to third.
After Landreaux walked, Baker hit a sacrifice fly to left, scoring Sax with the run that made it 3-2. Garvey then lined a single to left, sending Landreaux to third.
Moments later, a Rick Camp wild pitch bounced in front of catcher Bruce Benedict. As Benedict unsuccessfully searched for the ball that rested in front of him, Landreaux scored the run that gave the Dodgers a 4-2 lead.
Four batters into the game, the Braves had led, 2-0. With one out, Rafael Ramirez singled. Then Dale Murphy doubled inside of third base, scoring Ramirez. Chambliss followed with a run-scoring single to left.
The Dodgers closed the score to 2-1 in the second. Garvey reached second when Ramirez threw his infield single into the Atlanta dugout. Rick Monday followed with a run-scoring single to center.
The Braves scored once in the sixth to close to within 4-3, driving out Dodgers starter Burt Hooton. Ramirez singled to right, his third straight hit, then stole second. One out later, Chambliss singled to right, scoring Ramirez.
But in the bottom of the sixth, the Dodgers retaliated with a run, advancing to a 5-3 lead and knocking out reliever Donnie Moore.
After Baker was hit by a pitch, Garvey bounced a hit-and-run single to left, sending Baker to third. Monday followed with a single to right, scoring Baker with the 5-3 run.
Atlanta reliever Pascual Perez entered to induce Cey to hit into a force play and Mike Scioscia to hit into an inning-ending double play.