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The sun was setting last Friday on the San Gabriel mountains behind the centerfield fence of Dodger Stadium, and the shadows were creeping over the pitcher's mound as the Dodgers and Cubs moved into the bottom of the third of a scoreless game. Up to the plate in this twilight zone stepped Pedro Guerrero, the man who, more than any other, had brought L.A. out of the darkness.
In April and May the Dodgers were the laughingstock of baseball, committing errors in such bunches that they threatened to set records for ineptitude. In June the pace of the boots slowed and the Dodgers steadied themselves, but still, when they woke up on July 5, they trailed the defending National League champion San Diego Padres by five games in the West.
However, when they went to bed Sunday night, the Dodgers were 4½ games ahead of San Diego. The swing of 9½ games could not have been accomplished without the help of the Padres (see box, page 16), who lost six in a row before winning Saturday, but the Dodgers helped themselves in a big way, too. They won five straight games last week, and they've gone 16-5 since July 4.
And the man leading them has been Guerrero. On Tuesday he doubled in his last two at bats as the Dodgers beat the Pirates 6-0. On Wednesday, L.A. defeated Pittsburgh 9-1, and Guerrero walked, singled and walked twice more. On Thursday he walked, homered, singled and was hit by a pitch in the Dodgers' 7-3 win over the Cubs. Going into Friday's game, Guerrero had reached base 10 straight times.
In the first inning Guerrero hit a fly deep to right off Dick Ruthven that might have been a homer had not a fan deflected the ball, turning it into a ground-rule double. Now, as he came up with a man on in the third, the Dodger Stadium scoreboard told the 41,231 fans in attendance that Guerrero had reached base 11 straight times to tie the team record held by Ron Cey. Ahead lay Ted Williams's alltime mark of 16. Many of the fans were on their feet, clapping as Guerrero faced Ruthven, now engulfed by shade.
"All I want is a hit," Guerrero thought as he took his bold, upright stance at the front of the batter's box. At 3 and 2 Ruthven threw him a curve, and Guerrero went with it. A righthanded hitter coolly riding an outside pitch to rightfield is one of the more pleasing sights in baseball. Guerrero's parabola of a fly drifted and seemed to pick up distance as it finally settled into the rightfield seats. As the fans stood cheering, Guerrero loped around the bases, past Cey, now the Cubs' third baseman, and pointed an index finger at his wife, Denise, to share the moment with her. He made a curtain call from the dugout.
The Cubs pitched around Guerrero and walked him his next two times up, lengthening his on-base string to 14. Manager Tommy Lasorda took Guerrero out of the lineup with the Dodgers ahead 10-0 in the eighth, thus prolonging his Williams chase to Saturday afternoon.
The suspense was brief. In the first inning Guerrero fell behind Scott Sanderson 0 and 2, fouled off several pitches, worked the count to 3 and 2 and then lined a sacrifice fly to deep center. End of streak. Later in the game Guerrero singled and scored the winning run in the Dodgers' 5-4 victory.
The Dodgers' season turned from dismal to spectacular in June, when Guerrero hit 15 homers for the month, to equal a record held by Babe Ruth, Roger Maris and Robert (Indian Bob) Johnson. A back injury kept Guerrero out of seven games just before and after the All-Star Game, but the last two weeks he has hit .650 and scored 13 runs. For the year he is hitting .327 with 23 homers, 53 runs batted in and 69 runs scored, and he leads the league in both on-base percentage (.427) and slugging (.612).
"The guy is scary," says Chicago left-fielder Gary Matthews. "He lays off borderline pitches, and he hits everything else hard."