In the Dodgers' broadcast booth Monday night, Hall of Fame pitcher Don Drysdale already was preparing to bequeath one of baseball's most hallowed records to Orel Hershiser, the latest generation of dominating Dodger pitchers.
That, of course, would be Drysdale's streak of 58 consecutive scoreless innings that he pitched during the 1968 season. Now, 20 years later, Hershiser is romancing the record with a 40-inning scoreless pitching streak after beating the Houston Astros, 1-0, for his fourth straight shutout.
A bit premature? For sure.
But the way Drysdale figures it, if his name must be expunged from the record books, it's better to keep it in the family, and all that.
"Oh, yes, I'm pulling for him," said Drysdale, chuckling. "Hey, that's what records are for--to be broken. At least it's another guy on the Dodgers (trying to) do it, and one with his (uniform) number in the 50s."
Considering the dominating way Hershiser is pitching--he last gave up a run in the fifth inning of his Aug. 30 start in Montreal--the only thing that might stop Hershiser is the schedule. He has only two starts left, and assuming he pitches shutouts each time, he still would be 2/3 of an inning shy of equaling Drysdale's record.
Hershiser said he was humbled by the thought of even approaching such a record, one that he said he believes will never be broken. He said afterward that he merely is happy to help the Dodgers win the National League West title.
That eventuality is only games away now. With Monday night's win, the Dodgers hold a 9 1/2-game lead over the Cincinnati Reds and a 10-game edge over both the Astros and the San Francisco Giants. A combination of five Dodger wins and Red losses would give the Dodgers the championship.
A coy Tommy Lasorda still hasn't named his starter for the opening game of the playoff series, but Hershiser's recent performances may not give him any other choice.
As dominating as Hershiser was Monday night, he obviously could not have won without at least a modicum of offensive support. That was provided by John Shelby, who belted a home run to right field to lead off the seventh inning for the game's only run.
So, in a way, this impressive streak Hershiser has put together really is a testimony to self-preservation. So scarce is the Dodgers' run production these days that if Hershiser does not shut out opponents, he might not win.
Monday night's victory was Hershiser's 22nd, keeping pace with Cincinnati's Danny Jackson, who also won his 22nd game Monday night, in the Cy Young Award race.
Hershiser, who openly expresses his desire to win the prestigious award, has made a late push that seemingly has vaulted him into the favorite's role. He has won five straight games--four via shutouts--and has posted seven straight complete games. In that seven-game span, Hershiser has a 0.57 earned-run average.
The most impressive statistic, however, is Hershiser's scoreless inning streak. But Hershiser, normally optimistic to a fault, said he does not believe he can surpass Drysdale.
"It's hard enough to throw one shutout, let alone two more in my last two starts," Hershiser said. "Even if I did, I still would come up short."
Maybe not, Hershiser was advised. There is the possibility--considering the slumbering ways of the Dodger offense--that Hershiser would have to pitch extra innings in one of his two remaining starts, thus qualifying.
Or, he could always request to work an inning of relief, something that no doubt would not thrill Manager Tom Lasorda.
"Oh yeah, I can just see me asking Tommy to do that on the last day of the season with the playoffs coming up," Hershiser said.
Lasorda laughed at that scenario.
"That's a hell of a question you're asking me," Lasorda said. "To paraphrase the words of a great leader, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
Hershiser already has crossed one threshold to become one of baseball's best pitchers. If he continues on this scoreless pace, he will reach an even higher level.
As best the Elias Sports Bureau could determine Monday night, Hershiser has the 4th-longest scoreless streak in National League history. In 1968, the same season Drysdale pitched 58 scoreless innings, St. Louis' Bob Gibson pitched 47 straight scoreless innings. Carl Hubbell pitched 46 in 1933, a record that stood until Drysdale broke it.
Hershiser said Drysdale did not mention the streak during his postgame television interview afterward. Asked about it by sportswriters, Hershiser basically said the record is unattainable.
"I doubt it can be done," he said. "I really do. I've always said that that might be the one record that would never be broken. I'm not just trying to jinx myself or anything. But it's true."
Hershiser's next start will come Saturday against the Giants at Candlestick Park. The last time Hershiser faced the Giants, Aug. 14 at Dodger Stadium, he lasted only 2 innings and allowed 5 earned runs and 7 hits. That turned out to be Hershiser's last outing before his 7-game complete-game streak.
"I'm just going to go out in my next start and try not to embarrass myself," Hershiser said.
Hitters on both teams Monday night were red-faced.
Hershiser faced only 2 real threats, both helped by Dodger errors.
In the 1st inning, Kevin Bass singled with 2 outs, stole 2nd base and went to 3rd on shortstop Alfredo Griffin's error on Glenn Davis' ground ball, but Hershiser got Buddy Bell to ground to 2nd to end the threat.
In the 5th, the Astros had runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs as a result of Franklin Stubbs' error. But Hershiser got Casey Candaele to fly to left field.
Only in the 9th inning did the Dodger defense come to Hershiser's aid. After Hershiser gave up a leadoff single to Bass, Glenn Davis hit a hard grounder to Griffin at shortstop. He gloved the ball and made an off-balance throw to Steve Sax at second base. Sax then completed the double play. After Bell fouled out to the catcher, Hershiser had his 4th straight shutout.
Naturally, he thanked Shelby for providing the only run, the 7th-innig home run off reliever Danny Darwin. The teams might still be playing had Astro starter Nolan Ryan not pulled himself from the game in the 3rd inning with a cramp in his left hamstring.
In the 1st 2 innings, Ryan struck out 4 Dodgers and allowed only a walk to Stubbs. It was the 1st walk Ryan had allowed in 22 innings. That's an impressive streak in itself, but nothing approaching Drysdale's--or Hershiser's, for that matter.
"I'll tell you one thing, Drysdale's record was incredible," said Lasorda, whose pitching staff has combined for 4 shutouts in the last 6 games. "But how many of those wins were 1-0? Orel has had 2 of those."
With the current state of the Dodger offense, a few more might be forthcoming.
Fernando Valenzuela, on the disabled list since July 31, took a major step in his left-shoulder rehabilitation program by pitching a simulated game before Monday night's game. But Valenzuela said he doubts whether he will pitch in a game this season. If he did test his shoulder in game action, Valenzuela said it would be after the Dodgers have clinched the NL West title. "I don't know yet whether I'll pitch in a game," said Valenzuela, who pitched against live hitting for 15 minutes. "I'm happy because my arm feels good. I don't know if I can pitch in a game. My mechanics are good, but it's different in a simulated game. In a real game, you might try to throw too hard and I might hurt myself again. I have a lot of confidence in myself. I know I can throw. I don't have to prove anything." Valenzuela will be a free agent after the season, but he said he does not feel the need to pitch again this season to guarantee a new contract or a certain salary figure. "Right now, I have one more month with the Dodgers, and I'm under contract. Tony (DeMarco, Valenzuela's agent) handles that. I'd like to stay in Los Angeles."
HERSHISER'S STRING OF SCORELESS INNINGS
DATE OPPONENT/SITE INN. H R ER BB SO SCORE Sept. 5 Atlanta (Road) 9 4 0 0 1 8 3-0 Sept. 10 Cincinnati (Home) 9 7 0 0 3 8 5-0 Sept. 14 Atlanta (Home) 9 6 0 0 2 8 1-0 Sept. 19 Houston (Road) 9 4 0 0 0 5 1-0
Streak began with 4 scoreless innings in a 4-2 victory over Montreal on Aug. 30.
Hershiser has 6 shutouts this season.