The sport of Babe Ruth and Bobo Newsom, Mickey Lolich and Ernie Lombardi, Fats Fothergill and Honey Bear Rayford is safe for another night. Eat, drink and be merry.
This evening in Dodger Stadium, Fernando Valenzuela, Bill Madlock, Pedro Guerrero, Mike Scioscia and Tom Niedenfuer -- all candidates for a health club membership -- struck a blow for blubber.
These walking endorsements for tacos, spareribs, and linguine opened the National League playoffs with a 4-1 victory, making hash of the lean and hungry St. Louis Cardinals, a team with about two percent body fat.
The Cardinals may have stolen 314 bases this season. The Cardinals may cover more ground than a flash flood. But this time they were no match for Tommy Lasorda's pleasingly plump legion.
Valenzuela, rolling his eyes to the heavens, got the victory with 6 1/3 innings of sweaty labor. He didn't allow a run until the seventh when his husky mates had built a 4-0 lead, knocking out trim John Tudor, the Cardinals ace who'd gone 20-1 since June 1.
Madlock, the four-time batting champion who has long been the captain of the NL Squatty Body team, scored the game's first two runs.
Guerrero, the NL slugging champion who is nagged constantly by the Dodgers brass about his prominent posterior, drove in the first run and scored another. The 225-pound Scioscia, who blocks the dinner plate almost as well as home plate, drove in a crucial run. Fittingly, the eight-out save went to 230-pound Niedenfuer, who could be the poster boy for Love Handles and is affectionately known as Buffalo Head.
Lasorda gets kudos for picking Valenzuela for this Game 1 start. The extra-large Mexican had won only one game in six weeks. Lasorda, however, trusts left-handers with an appetite; he's one. "Fernando has made me manager of the year three times," said Lasorda. "He's a winner . . . tough, tough in the big games . . . Usually he's a closer. But he's thrown over 270 innings this year and they've taken their toll."
The Cardinals were left to spin their wheels as leadoff speedsters Vince Coleman and Willie McGee each went hitless in four trips, McGee striking out three times. The Dodgers actually won the theft war (2-1), as Madlock and Guerrero showed that thick legs can churn, too.
Even the Cardinals defense was an opening night embarrassment. Terry Pendleton, who got picked off by Valenzuela, made an error that led to an unearned run. He also accidentally threw the ball off Tudor's back on a bizarre run-scoring bunt play.
Perhaps most important, Ozzie Smith, the fulcrum of the St. Louis defense, botched a tough play in the hole that Manager Whitey Herzog said "he sucks up 99 percent of the time." That rare double-to-shortstop was a key to a three-run sixth that broke open this game.
The Dodgers, who will send Orel Hershiser (19-3) against Joaquin Andujar (21-12) here at 8:35 p.m. Thursday, nicked Tudor for a cheap run in the fifth. Pendleton booted a tough, half-hop grounder by Madlock, who stole second and scored on a a bloop hit by Guerrero.
In the disastrous sixth, the nibbling turned into an orgy.
Madlock's grounder deflected off Smith's Gold Glove for two bases. After Guerrero was walked intentionally, tall Mike Marshall flied out; he was obviously too skinny.
Scioscia, the team heavyweight who takes a fierce kidding about his waistline, slapped a clean, first-pitch single to center for a 2-0 lead that left men at the corners.
"That was the big hit," said Herzog.
Next came a daring Cardinals-like play that Herzog said "I've never seen before." With two out, Candy Maldonado -- yes, he has a sweet tooth -- laid down a deft bunt toward third for an RBI hit. Injury was nearly added to insult as third baseman Pendleton's throw toward the plate nailed Tudor squarely on the right elbow.
"He'll be all right," growled Herzog. "He don't pitch that that arm."
How did Maldonado dream up such an impromptu play? He didn't.
Lasorda, who'd seen Pendleton playing deep, stood in the Dodgers dugout screaming, "Toque, toque, toque," which is Spanish for "bunt." "He never turned around, so I didn't think he heard me," said Lasorda, who speaks fluent Spanish. "I knew (catcher Darrell) Porter and Pendleton didn't speak Spanish."
"It's a play you don't expect," Maldonado said. "I've seen Pete Rose do it before."
"I think we could have gotten the runner at either home or first base," said Herzog, ruffled perhaps that the Dodgers would dare to turn a speed attack on his Runnin' Redbirds. "But it was a surprise."
Sensing Tudor's pain, Steve Sax then hit the next pitch to left center for a run-scoring double that drove Tudor from the hill.
The Cardinals, who can probably be found at Spago here, dining on tiny portions of nouvelle cuisine, managed only one real rally against Valenzuela.
In the seventh, Pendleton, Smith and pinch hitter Tito Landrum all singled for a run. Lasorda, knowing how Valenzuela's stamina has faded in recent weeks, was quick to call Niedenfuer.
On one pitch, Coleman, who hit into only three double plays all season, grounded into a double play.
Perhaps in time the Dodgers will let slip a hidden reason for their excellent all-around game. On Tuesday, Herzog said, "If it wasn't for their pitching, they (the Dodgers) would have a (bad) team."
This is, perhaps, obvious, and no more defamatory than saying, "If the Cardinals couldn't run, they'd be lousy." But pros don't like that kind of tone of voice. However, between these teams, between these two franchises, actually, there are few gentle words.
A nice cutting edge lies just below the surface of this playoff. The Dodgers, from owner Peter O'Malley on down, just don't like the Cardinals or their old boss Augie Busch. It's a case of baseball's most powerful progressive moderate feeling frustrated and angered by the game's key arch-conservative.
It's no secret the Dodgers think that both the strike of 1981 and the firing of Bowie Kuhn as commissioner were plots hatched very near the elbow of Busch. The Dodgers fought both wars in the game's back rooms and lost both.
The Dodgers were so bitter that, in the aftermath of Kuhn's canning, they banned Busch beer at Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers have egg in their beer now. Not only have they beaten the Cardinals' ace -- the southpaw with 10 shutouts who'd won 11 games in a row, but they now have their comparable pitcher -- Hershiser, who's won 11 in a row -- on tap.
"I'm glad it's a seven-game playoff right now," said Herzog, adding that "there's no more pressure on us" because teams in seven-game series are always content with a split on the road.
This, however, was the game St. Louis figured it would win. Now, Andujar, who has been in a slump much like Valenzuela's, is a crucial figure.
If it's any consolation to the Cardinals, Hershiser is so thin he has to take a deep breath and puff out his chest just to take a shower.