LOS ANGELES -- The story of the game, and the weekend, was captured in the smile. The dazed, Christmas-morning smile of Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Ramon Martinez.
It was seen by 49,105 fans who celebrated in the fourth inning against the Atlanta Braves yesterday, when Martinez did something he never had done before, something he never might do again.
The Dodgers' ace pitcher, and one of their worst hitters, hit a home run to spark a 3-0 victory.
"Did you see that? Did you see his face?" Dodgers center fielder Brett Butler said later. "Amazing."
If you think that's amazing, check this morning's standings.
After coming within two innings of falling 1 1/2 games behind in second place Saturday night, the Dodgers are in first place and leading the Atlanta Braves by that same margin after their victory in the rubber match of the three-game series.
Martinez not only hit a home run, but he also gave up only two hits in seven shutout innings, despite pitching with a bruised right biceps and strained right hip. He was helped by Mike Sharperson's first-inning hustle and the bullpen's late-inning relief.
"Today, the Braves saw experience coming through. They saw extra effort coming through," Dodgers right fielder Darryl Strawberry said.
"You hate to say the Braves became tentative but . . . they were looking like they realized, 'Hey, we really are going to have to play to beat these guys."
After winning two of three games during the weekend and 11 of 18 during the season against the Braves, the Dodgers finally can say what they have been dying to say for a month.
"From here on in, if we keep winning, who cares what the Braves do?" Sharperson said with a smile.
Although that is mathematically correct, the schedule does not seem to agree.
The Dodgers have 11 games remaining, six at Dodger Stadium and five on the road, against the San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres. Those teams' combined record is 146-155.
"This series did not resolve anything," Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser said. "Only with a sweep could somebody have won something. There was nothing won by anyone. There is still a lot of time for the Braves to catch up."
At least outwardly, the Braves agreed.
"The last time we were in here, [the deficit] was 9 1/2 games, and we made that up," catcher Greg Olson said. "There is still a lot of games left."
In taking their biggest lead over the second-place Braves in a month, the Dodgers beat ace Tom Glavine, who gave up eight hits and three runs in only four innings. Glavine had given up one run in 18 previous innings at Dodger Stadium.
Glavine was pitching on three days' rest, as did Martinez when he struggled two weeks ago in Cincinnati.
"We knew Glavine might be a little tired because of the short rest, so we wanted to jump on him early," Sharperson said.
And because Sharperson believed he had let the team down Saturday night by grounding out with the bases loaded, he wanted to be the one to jump.
With one out in the first, he hit a blooper to left field. While Lonnie Smith casually approached the ball, Sharperson hustled into second base with a double.
He scored three pitches later on Strawberry's triple down the left-field line, and the tone had been set.
After Eddie Murray's single made the score 2-0 after one inning, the stage belonged to Martinez.
"A gutty performance," Braves manager Bobby Cox said.