Orel Hershiser zeroed in on MLB record 25 years ago

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first_img Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error “It’s a rhetorical question. Just like people who meet me think I’m in the Hall of Fame. I never correct them. Why disappoint them?”Don’t be disappointed to learn that, for the record, the streak is 59 and doing fine.Also to make clear: Hershiser hasn’t made the Hall of Fame. At least as far as he can recall.“Days are long, years are short, I can’t believe I’m actually retired,” said Hershiser, who just turned 55 — his old uniform number.Working the past nine years as a game analyst for ESPN, a candidate to someday join the Dodgers’ broadcasting crew on a regular basis, Hershiser will forever be the boyish symbol of the 1988 Dodgers title team and linked with the grizzled Hall of Famer Drysdale, able to surpass his mark as if everyone stayed on a pre-written Hollywood script. For starters, Hershiser had to throw five complete-game shutouts between Sept. 5 in Atlanta and Sept. 23 in San Francisco just to get in the neighborhood.Close calls? Nothing like the one against the Giants that appeared to end the whole thing at 42, only to have umpire Paul Runge decide San Francisco’s Brett Butler went too far out of the baseline to break up a double play at second, erasing a run and ending the inning.That fed directly to the night in San Diego — Sept. 28, 1988, his last start of the season before the playoffs — in a contest that only some 22,000 actually saw at the park because it wasn’t televised.Hershiser had to throw nine scoreless innings to tie it, 10 to break it, or else face the possibility of having to make a relief appearance in the final four games to do it.That meant his teammates couldn’t score a run and Padres pitcher Andy Hawkins had to match him with zeros.And that’s how it somehow happened.“You know about the baseball superstition when no one talks to a pitcher throwing a no-hitter?” said Tim Leary, Hershiser’s teammate on that ’88 team who had 17 victories himself and actually struck out more batters during the regular season. “No one would talk to Orel about it.“And during that game in San Diego, we were trying to score. If we could have won that game 10-0, we would have and it would have been fine. But as things happened, it was just magical that it did go extra innings, and that was a record that was apparently made to be broken.”When Dodgers right fielder Jose Gonzalez caught a fly ball hit by Padres pinch-hitter Keith Moreland with the winning run on third base in the bottom of the 10th, Hershiser got down on one knee and gave thanks.That pushed him past Drysdale’s record of 58, which had been referred to as going 58 2/3 until statistical adjustments were made to throw out the fractions.Hershiser, as if it was in a Hallmark Channel movie, was then embraced in the dugout by Drysdale, the Dodgers’ broadcaster working that game, with Vin Scully in the booth calling the play-by-play, who was freed up to go downstairs.And even though the contest wasn’t over — Hershiser’s night was, but the game ended up going 16 innings before the Padres won, 2-1 — the two were escorted to a media room to hold a news conference.Too many surreal things to recall during a month of Dodger miracles, and even more to come.In 1968, Drysdale threw six consecutive shutouts between May 14 and June 4. He had four more scoreless innings June 8 against Philadelphia before the streak ended on a sacrifice fly.That broke a record held for 52 years by Walter Johnson — the Hall of Famer threw 55 2/3 innings. Assume those last 2/3 have also been erased.How Hershiser, whom manager Tommy Lasorda had already dubbed “Bulldog,” was able not to just seize a moment, but the entire month of September, is astounding to this day.“Some people are so mentally strong they can just will things to happen, like a Muhammad Ali,” said Leary, a Santa Monica native who remembers attending the June 4, 1968 game in which Drysdale shut out Pittsburgh 5-0 — the same night presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated not very far away.“Orel just never made a mistake. Everything he threw was at the knees or below. He was more than just in a zone. Real precision. Every hit he gave up was just a jam-shot flare, or a grounder that got through the infield somehow.”The cerebral Hershiser agrees that “I was always just a ‘good’ pitcher, not a ‘great’ one. I think about it now. I didn’t have a 97 mph fastball or an unbelievable curveball. I had the sinker, and I figured out a way to win. I thought through it all.”With Mike Scioscia as his primary receiver and orchestrator — although Rick Dempsey did catch one game during the streak — Hershiser was truly the master of the house, an entrance song Dodger Stadium organist Nancy Bea Hefley played for him from the Broadway play, “Les Miserables.”Hershiser laughs when asked if he can play that game over in his mind.“I’m not that kind of a player who sits down and has a beer and talks old times,” he said. “I’ve got enough things to remember in my head these days, running seven businesses, trying to keep up with all the ESPN things.”Most of Hershiser’s remembrances of that streak are chronicled in “Out of the Blue,” a book he wrote with Jerry Jenkins soon after that season. He recalled Drysdale interviewing him on KABC radio.“Even though I had retired 19 Padres on groundballs and was probably as sharp as I had been all year, I would not get a decision in the game,” Hershiser wrote. “It would not count as a shutout or a complete game, even though it was really more impressive than either (of the previous five). …“The streak had been a dream, but I was glad it was over for 1988. All those innings wouldn’t mean a thing when Mookie Wilson came to the plate for the Mets in the first game of the National League Championship Series.”Hershiser actually continued the scoreless streak into the playoffs, although it wasn’t added to the record number. He posted eight more zeros against the Mets in Game 1 of the NLCS at Dodger Stadium on Oct. 4 until Darryl Strawberry’s double scored a run in the top of the ninth. Jay Howell came in on relief, and couldn’t hold a 2-1 lead.On the second day of the 1989 season in Cincinnati, Hershiser gave up an unearned run in the first inning (thanks to his own error) in an eventual 4-3 loss, starting the season 0-1.He had half as many shutouts in ‘89 — four, instead of eight — and had only two more in the 11 seasons after that.He never really came close to matching that scoreless innings mark in a career that was derailed for a time by shoulder surgery. He left to play in Cleveland (World Series appearances in ’95 and ’97), San Francisco and with the New York Mets before circling back to finish his career as a 41-year-old Dodger starter in 2000. In his final six starts in L.A., he allowed 36 earned runs in 24-plus innings for a 13.14 ERA and 1-5 mark.With 204 career wins and a 3.48 ERA in more than 3,000 innings, Hershiser’s place in the Dodgers all-time record books includes 10th overall in wins (135), 16th in ERA (3.12), sixth in strikeouts (1,456) and ninth in shutouts (24, one more than Bob Welch).As much as Hershiser is a collector of sports memorabilia — he says he has his jersey and spikes from the record-setting game — he only recently gave up possession of the ball that Gonzalez caught for the last out. ESPN’s Keith Olbermann, a sports anchor at KCBS-Channel 2 at the time, bought it six months ago.
Hershiser has also given up trying to predict if that mark of 59 will ever be eclipsed. Very few starters, or relief pitchers, have even reached as many as 30 scoreless innings in the time since then.“Sometimes, I think it’s gotten harder, sometimes it seems easier,” he said.“When they tightened the strike zones, built new smaller ballparks, when hitters were, shall we say, more juiced, then it was a record that was much harder to break,” he said. “Now that there’s drug testing, it makes it a little easier I suppose.“I do think it’s possible to break, though. If I could do it, I’d think someone else could. In fact, I actually hope someone breaks it so they can enjoy what baseball is at that level. It would be so cool, if that guy would call me and ask me to be there at the game when he breaks it.”Maybe by that point, Hershiser will actually be a bona fide Hall of Famer.center_img Sure, 25 years later, people still come up to Orel Hershiser and ask him about his record consecutive scoreless innings streak.Sometimes it starts with: How many innings was it again?“I’m at a point where I’m not sure anymore, after they (the Major League Baseball official stat keepers) changed Don Drysdale’s number right in the middle of everything,” said the Dodgers’ 1988 Cy Young Award winner.“It feels like I’ve been told the wrong number so many times. People say, ‘You still have that world record, right?’last_img

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