When Dodger pitcher Orel Hershiser hunkers down at his personal computer to log data about Monday night's outing, a 4-hit shutout of the woeful Atlanta Braves, he probably will not note the quality of competition or the ease with which he won his 19th game.
In the analytical mind of Hershiser it didn't matter that a rainout Sunday in New York aborted his scheduled start against the team with the National League's best record and, instead, pitted him against the league's worst team.
"The key is not to think you're playing the Mets, not playing the Braves," Hershiser said. "The key is to just go out and beat whoever's out there. If we can just narrow things down to a minimum, it gives us the best chance to win our division."
Hershiser, predictably dominant against the Braves, moved the Dodgers another step closer to the Western Division title by pitching the Dodgers to a 3-0 victory in front of 10,768 fans at Fulton County Stadium.
In limiting the Braves to three harmless singles and a double and in striking out slugger Dale Murphy four times, Hershiser enabled the Dodgers to maintain a 5-game lead over the second-place Houston Astros.
So dominanting was Hershiser that perhaps even the Mets, who won 10 of 11 games against the Dodgers, would have been stifled. Hershiser possessed as good a sinking fastball as he has had this season and pitched with exacting location.
"He had it all going," catcher Mike Scioscia said. He also used both sides of the plate. When he's like that, he's tough for anyone to beat."
So, could he have handled the Mets?
"I don't know," he said. "I had this kind of stuff against the Mets (Aug. 24) in L.A. and lost, 2-1."
On this night, against Braves starter Rick Mahler, the Dodgers produced two runs, more than enough to win, in the first inning. They added another in the third.
Mickey Hatcher, the unlikely clean-up hitter forced into that role because of the continued absence of Mike Marshall (strained right thigh muscle), drove in Alfredo Griffin from second base with a single to left field. When the ball rolled by Braves left fielder Dion James for an error, Kirk Gibson scored from first base despite being hampered by a strained right buttock.
Thus given a 2-0 lead before he stepped on the mound, Hershiser proceeded to give up a two-out first-inning double to Gerald Perry. But Hershiser struck out Murphy, despite hanging a 2-and-1 curveball that Murphy missed.
"I hung two curveballs to Murphy early," Hershiser said. "On that one, he could've made it 2-2 in a hurry. Fortunately, he missed it."
Many more misses would be forthcoming, particularly after Hershiser found a rhythm in the middle innings. Hershiser, with an extra day's rest, said he felt too strong in the bullpen warming up and in the first four innings. As a result, he said, he tried to overthrow a few pitches.
But, after walking James with two out in the third inning, Hershiser did not allow another baserunner until Jeff Blauser's single to open the ninth. All told, Hershiser retired 16 straight batters in that span--including three more Murphy strikeouts.
"I was struggling early on because I felt too strong," Hershiser said. "I made a decision in the bullpen to come out strong rather than try to air it out in the bullpen and get fatigued. So, for the first four innings, I overthrew the ball. But after that, I wore the edge off."
Hershiser's decision, obviously, was the correct one. But he said that, in his younger, less cerebral days (circa 1985), he might have taken a different approach.
"I probably would have worked my rear end off, because as a young pitcher, you fear going to the mound with bad stuff," Hershiser said. "Now, I think I can get guys out even without my best stuff by making the right pitches and adjusting. You can have confidence in your ability and with your head. Now, I have both. In 1985, I didn't have that kind of confidence."
Hershiser won 19 games in 1985, his second major league season. With five starts remaining this season, he will have ample opportunity to try to become the Dodgers' first 20-game winner since Fernando Valenzuela in 1986.
"I've got five more starts to do it," Hershiser said. "Hopefully, I won't stop at 20. I want to win as many as possible and help the team win our division."
Just as Hershiser unblushingly calls 20 victories a goal, he also is not shy in expressing his desire to merit consideration for the Cy Young Award. Valenzuela, in 1981, was the last Dodger to win it.
Hershiser's major competition figures to be Cincinnati's Danny Jackson, who won his 20th game on Sunday, Reds reliever John Franco and Mets starter David Cone.
"Jackson, who does he play for?" Hershiser kiddingly asked. "What does he have, 14 or 15 wins? Really, I think several guys have pitched well enough to deserve it."
In the estimation of many of his teammates, Hershiser is a leading candidate.
"My vote's for Orel right now," said Scioscia, hardly an unbiased observer. "He's been very consistent. That's not a slight against Jackson. But I've seen Orel, and he deserves it. Look at the way he pitched tonight. Look at how he (handled) Dale Murphy. You might go another decade before we see that again."
Manager Tom Lasorda, too, was suitably impressed by Hershiser's four strikeouts of Murphy. He also cast his vote for Hershiser. "You may not see that again in our lifetime," Lasorda said of Murphy's four strikeouts.
Actually, Murphy has struck out four times in a game six times, including June 2 of this season against Montreal. Even told of those facts, Lasorda's astonishment of Monday night's feat did not dim.
"Orel's had a hell of a year; you saw that tonight," Lasorda said. "If I had a vote, I'd vote for the Bulldog (Hershiser) right now."
Selected sportswriters, not players and managers, have the votes for the Cy Young Award, however. Perhaps aware of that fact, Hershiser and running mate Dave Anderson made a campaign stop in the press box an hour after Monday night's game.
"You guys need any more quotes?" Hershiser asked.
There was no response. His performance on the field was stumping enough for one night.
Monday night's victory was Orel Hershiser's fourth straight complete game. He is 3-1 with a 1.00 earned-run average. In his eight previous starts before this streak, Hershiser was 3-4 with a 4.76 ERA. Just as he refused to say he was in a slump, Hershiser now says "I'm not on a streak. I'm just pitching well." . . . Add Hershiser: After striking out Dale Murphy for the third time Monday night, Hershiser looked to the Dodger dugout and smiled. Asked about it afterward, Hershiser said he was smiling at pitching Coach Ron Perranoski, who apparently was not smiling. Hershiser said he struck out Murphy with a side-armed curveball, a pitch Perranoski does not want Hershiser to throw for fear that he might hurt his arm. "He doesn't want me to end my career on one pitch," Hershiser said. "I only throw it against the great hitters when I really need an out." Said Perranoski: "I cringe every time he does that. I don't think it's healthy for him, number one. And two, it can (mess up) the mechanics on his other pitches. But he still does it. Even once is too much." . . . Steve Sax doubled and later scored the Dodgers' third run in the third inning Monday night. Sax, who went 1-for-3 against Rick Mahler, had only 4 hits in his previous 35 at bats on this trip. . . . Mike Marshall took batting and fielding practice Monday but apparently told assistant trainer Charlie Strasser his right leg did not healenough to return.