ATLANTA -- The Los Angeles Dodgers, having lost a game and a weekend series to Atlanta, groped for the schedule and its abundance of home games as if it were a life preserver in turbulent waters.
After watching their ace pitcher battered in a 9-1 defeat yesterday, their defense perform like a bad circus act and their offense shut down by Steve Avery, it was the only inspiration they could salvage.
"Our record at home speaks for itself," said Darryl Strawberry, referring to the team's 44-24 record at Dodger Stadium, the best home mark in baseball. "That's an advantage for us."
The Dodgers play 13 of their remaining 18 games at home. With road games in San Diego and San Francisco, they don't leave California the rest of the season. But underneath the speculation and rationalization, the cold fact of the National League West race is this: the Braves hold a 1 1/2 -game lead with 19 games left.
"It's in our hands now," said Sid Bream, whose first-inning grand slam broke open yesterday's game. "We can take it to them or we can lose the thing. It's up to us now."
Atlanta has a seven-game West Coast trip that begins tonight in San Francisco and ends with three games in Los Angeles over the weekend. The Braves play 13 of their next 16 games on the road.
"It's going to be difficult for them, a young team in a pennant race on the road," Strawberry said, "especially a West Coast trip this time of year."
The Braves, playing to the frenzied beat of tomahawk chops, tom-toms and war cries, have seized control of the division by dominating at home. They completed a 6-1 homestand and are 27-8 here since the All-Star break.
The Dodgers assisted Atlanta by committing three errors, allowing four unearned runs, walking five batters and hitting two others. Their most grievous mistake came in the first inning, with Atlanta runners at first and third and one out, when neither Strawberry nor second baseman Juan Samuel caught David Justice's routine pop-up.
Strawberry said he lost sight of the ball. Samuel saw it, but dropped it. Incredibly, the play was scored as a hit by Mark Frederickson, the same official scorer who preserved Atlanta's no-hitter Wednesday with a controversial call.
"He is a disgrace to baseball," Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda said.
Ramon Martinez (16-11) loaded the bases when he hit Ron Gant with a pitch. Bream then drilled a 3-and-1 fastball over the rightfield wall. Bream has hit two grand slams this year, both against his former teams, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles. He did not have any in 2,133 at-bats before this year. He is 4-for-8 against Martinez in his career, including three home runs.
"He's a fastball pitcher and I'm a fastball hitter," Bream said. "I've been in situations against him where I can sit on his fastball."