Ron Cey, who through Sunday had driven in 28 runs in his last 31 games, was even more outspoken about what he considered front-office scare tactics. Constant talk early in the season of replacing veterans with youngsters from the crack Albuquerque Triple A farm club was "disrupting" and "insulting," according to Cey, 34. "All that nonsense about making a move here and a move there was upsetting to players who had proved they were winners. You got the feeling that half the club wasn't even here yet, that we couldn't take the team picture without [Greg] Brock and [Candy] Maldonado [two Triple A Albuquerque flashes]. It affected me personally, and I know it affected others. I don't care how old you are if you can still do the job. I don't know of many teams this successful who've had to face this dilemma. It's almost as if they're saying nothing is good enough. There was a lot going on here that didn't need to be going on. When they finally decided to leave us alone, we got back to playing baseball."
An improved state of mind is one thing. Physical improvement is another. The Dodgers have profited from the season-long superior pitching of Welch, whose win on Friday was his fifth straight. Until Smith homered off him in the final inning, Welch hadn't allowed an earned run in 24 innings. His 14 victories (against seven losses) are second only to the 15 (with nine losses) of Valenzuela, who has established that his rookie season was no fluke. But back in April, Welch looked more like a candidate for elbow surgery than for the Cy Young Award. The team left him behind at the conclusion of spring training for treatment of a sore right arm. He recovered and, with Valenzuela, has been a mainstay ever since, which is fortunate because Burt Hooton has been on and off the disabled list for much of the year after being struck just above the right knee by a line drive in spring training.
The Dodgers' offensive spark has been provided by Steve Sax, a confident youngster of 22 who has successfully made the jump from Double A to the majors. "I was like someone blindfolded at first," Sax says, "but things have gone well." On Friday, Sax stole his 41st base, setting a record for Dodger rookies. He doffed his cap to the crowd of 47,702, and smiled broadly, if not entirely ingenuously. "He is confident, to say the least," says Cey, "but his real test is yet to come." At week's end, Sax was leading the league in hits and was among the leaders in runs and steals. Sax grew up in Sacramento and had been a Giant fan until he signed with the Dodgers out of James Marshall High School. "I loved the Giants," he says, "but now I want to put them out of the race, get rid of them."
Guerrero, whose 23 homers and 74 RBIs are already career highs, has, with Baker (.312 average, 20 homers, 68 RBIs), taken up the slack for Steve Garvey, whose .271 average at week's end was his highest for the year. Garvey's contract is up, and the feeling is that he may be a victim of the coming youth movement. Cey's young ghosts are real for this old (33) Blue.
The Giants haven't been without turmoil of their own (see box below), but as opposed to previous San Francisco teams, this one does more playing than complaining. It's an entirely different team from the one that had its first winning season since 1978 last year, Robinson's first as manager. The starting rotation has included three 24-year-old rookies—Bill Laskey, Atlee Hammaker and Fowlkes (who was sent to the minors Sunday)—and on the field the Giants are an improbable mixture of youth and age. Tom O'Malley, 21, is a frequent starter at third and fellow rookie Davis, 22, is a regular in center, along with such gray-beards as Morgan, 38, at second and Smith, 37, at first. But these two geezers have sparked the recent drive, and at week's end were hitting .297 and .315, respectively. Smith's career seemed over after he had only 35 at bats with the Dodgers in '81 and became a free agent, but Robinson needed him to play first, and he has been more than a pleasant surprise, raising his average 53 percentage points in his last 18 games. At 162 pounds Morgan is 14 pounds lighter than he was a year ago and is playing swift and lean. "The older you get, the more people tell you that you can't do what you used to," he says. "Well, as much as you don't want to listen to that, things do seep in. People kept telling me that I should go to the opposite field more and that I needed to build up my strength by lifting weights. I did, and I got heavier. But quickness is my game, and I decided to go back to it. In spring training [Cub Coach] Billy Williams told me my bat seemed to him just as quick as ever. That gave me more confidence."
Robinson, tinkering most of the year, had finally assembled the lineup he wanted when Shortstop Johnnie LeMaster aggravated a thigh-muscle injury Saturday in Los Angeles. That necessitated moving Morgan from second to third, transferring Evans from third to short and bringing in Duane Kuiper to play second. With Smith on first, that infield averaged 35.5 years of age per man. Additional tinkering is now indicated. But with it all, even so celebrated a dissident as Clark can say, "We've stuck together as a team. Sure, some guys get frustrated when they're not playing, but when it comes time for them to pinch-hit, they come through. It's a team effort. Everybody is making a contribution. I'm real proud to be on this team."
But the Dodgers, who staved off the Giants' rush last weekend, will be hard to catch down the stretch. In there trying, of course, will be the Braves, who ended up losing three out of four to the Padres over the weekend, leaving them 1½ and 2½ games, respectively, out of first place, along with the Giants, who were four games out. But up ahead there seemed to be an awful lot of Dodger blue. When it was suggested to Robinson that his team may have "cooled the Dodgers off," he smiled almost sadly, and replied, "We beat them, but we didn't cool them off."
That may not happen until they reach the wire.