Ramon Martinez and Bruce Ruffin had matched zeros all night, but Ruffin was clearly weakening. In the eighth, he surrendered hits to the first three batters, and was finally yanked. It was still only 1-0 at the time. Roger McDowell took over. The travesty was about to begin.
Wally Backman couldn't handle a Mike Scioscia grounder, and the second run came home.
Backman collected another grounder, and tried to nab a runner at home. Backman threw wildly, and a third run came home. Darren Daulton tried to recover by nipping the hitter as he approached first base, but Daulton threw the ball into right field.
Martinez rapped a ball to shortstop, but the Phils couldn't turn the double play, and the fourth run scored. And when Dickie Thon mangled a Juan Samuel grounder, the final run came home.
This chronology doesn't mention a botched play at first base and the ball that Charlie Hayes failed to field at third base, but you get the idea. It was the fourth successive defeat on a road trip that started with so much promise.
Ruffin is truly the hard-luck pitcher on the Phillies' staff. In his three losses this year, the Phils have scored exactly one run. Backman said last night, "We want to win for the guy. It's frustrating for everyone, to not get any runs for someone who had struggled so hard in the past, and now he's pitching so well. I feel bad for Ruff. He didn't deserve to lose that game."
As for the ignominious eighth-inning events, Backman could only say, "It's like we're snakebit, I guess."
Ruffin knew he was tiring as he labored in the eighth. "The ball started to come up a little bit," he said. "When I made the adjustment to get the ball down, it went too low. I knew all along I'd have to pitch well against a guy like (Martinez)."
What seemed to really bother Ruffin was a key moment in the top of the eighth. Thon had stroked a leadoff double - the best Phillies threat all night. It was Ruffin's job to bunt Thon to third. Ruffin ran the count to 2-0, but failed to execute. And Thon ultimately died at second.
"I had a chance to get that bunt down, but I didn't do it," said Ruffin. ''It might've cost me. It might've been a different game (if Thon had scored). I know I can't hit, but I should've been able to bunt. It frustrated me, because I even had some good pitches to bunt."
Backman said, "You get one opportunity to score, you better do it. Martinez had good location on his fastball. I didn't see anything down the middle. You can't pitch much better than that." He should know. He made the final out that stranded Thon at second.
Once again, the Phils started in low gear. In the six California games, they have managed to score exactly once during the first three innings - a solo homer by John Kruk in San Diego on Saturday night.
And now they were facing the ace of the Dodgers' staff, the rubber-armed Martinez, who ranked fourth in the league in ERA (2.49), second in wins (12), third in complete games (four) and fourth in winning percentage (.706) and was tied for first in shutouts (three). He had limited opponents to a .223 batting
average, sixth best in the league.
Last year, he became the youngest Dodger to win 20 games since Ralph Branca turned the trick in 1947. Martinez is a skinny kid of 23, but he hurls the ball at speeds approaching 95 m.p.h. Hitters love fastballs, as a rule, but Martinez keeps them at bay - as he did in the early going last night - by throwing a change-up.
Martinez blanked the Phils over the first five innings, and it was easy to see why. When a hitter is looking for a change-up, and gets a fastball instead, he has only a fraction of a second to adjust. Or, to be more precise, statisticians have determined that a fastball traveling a mere 90 m.p.h. arrives at the plate 0.4167 seconds after it leaves the hurler's hand.
On the other hand, when a hitter is looking for a blazing fastball, and gets a change-up instead, he'll wind up looking the way Wes Chamberlain looked in the third inning. On a 2-2 pitch, he guessed fastball. He got the floater instead, and wound up swatting the breeze with one hand, all 210 pounds of solid muscle toppling onto his front foot.
Ruffin, meanwhile, managed to keep pace with Martinez. He had started against the Dodgers at Veterans Stadium on July 15, but was driven from the mound in the second inning. He said later that he felt out of sync, perhaps
because he had languished for nine days, thanks to the all-star break.
Aside from that outing, however, Ruffin has been a major surprise this season. Entering last night's game, he had compiled a 1.74 ERA as a starter - including a two-hit shutout in his most recent start, against the Padres on Saturday night in San Diego. Not bad for a guy given up for dead at the end of spring training.
In the early innings last night, the Dodgers whacked a number of balls with authority, but they wound up in Phillies gloves. With two out in the second, Gary Carter, who had two career homers off Ruffin, tracked a low pitch over the middle, and pounded it deep to left. Chamberlain sprinted toward the fence, and gloved the ball on the run.
The Dodgers rapped a pair of singles in the fourth. With two out, Mike Sharperson drilled a liner to left, and Chamberlain fought the trajectory for a moment. A long moment, long enough to conjure up memories of the previous two nights. But he guided his glove to the proper spot, and the ball vanished in the webbing.