Thirty-six scoreless innings ago, the only record Dodger pitcher Orel Hershiser said he was thinking about was in the standings, where his team had a 5-game lead over the second-place Houston Astros in the National League West.
Twenty-seven scoreless innings ago, Hershiser achieved the primary personal record--20 victories--that he sought all season, and he said the ultimate goal, a division title, would partially hinge on how many more games he won.
Nine scoreless innings ago, Hershiser said that before and after--but not during--the game, his thoughts were on his ailing newborn son, hospitalized for 5 days after his birth. Hershiser called talk about the possibility of his consecutive scoreless-inning streak reaching record proportions premature.
After his most recent scoreless inning, the 49th in a row, Hershiser finally acknowledged that there was a chance he could equal the record he had believed out of reach: Don Drysdale's 58-inning scoreless streak. But even then, Hershiser expressed reverence for the 20-year-old mark.
But tonight, as Hershiser faces the San Diego Padres with a chance to tie Drysdale's record with a sixth straight shutout, the magnitude of it has hit Hershiser harder than any opponent has been able to do for weeks.
"I still think it's a longshot," said Hershiser, whose 7-4 career record against the Padres includes 4 shutouts, a 1-hitter, a 2-hitter and a 1.90 earned-run average.
"But there is a chance. It's one game, one shutout. I'm pretty relaxed, actually, compared to before the last one (his fifth shutout, last Friday night against the San Francisco Giants), because the record (then) seemed so far away."
Going into tonight's start, Hershiser's last before Game 1 of the National League playoffs Tuesday at Dodger Stadium, he ranks third on the list behind Drysdale and Walter Johnson, who pitched 55 scoreless innings in 1913. Already, Hershiser has passed such Hall of Fame pitchers as Carl Hubbell and Bob Gibson.
Hershiser, who turned 30 earlier this month, often has been described as a thinking man's pitcher. He stores data on each of his starts in a personal computer.
So, even though he did not publicly express his feelings earlier, Hershiser is aware of his place in baseball history should he tie--or, perhaps with an extra-inning game or a relief appearance later in the week, break--Drysdale's record.
"I remember last year, I think, somebody had a survey asking players what they thought the most unbeatable records are," Hershiser said. "I voted for this one first, because of all the circumstances (in which) they can score a run."
Until his last start in San Francisco, there had not been many close calls for Hershiser.
But then, a call by second base umpire Paul Runge saved the streak after it appeared to have ended at 42 innings.
The Giants had Jose Uribe on third base and Brett Butler on first with one out. Ernest Riles hit a ground ball to Sax, who began a double-play attempt by throwing to shortstop Alfredo Griffin at second base. Brett Butler's slide took out Griffin, whose throw sailed over first baseman Tracy Woodson's head, allowing Uribe to score.
The run was already on the scoreboard, and Hershiser said later he had already resigned himself to the end of the streak, when Runge called Butler out for obstructing Griffin's chance to complete the double play. Thus, the inning was over, and the Giants' run erased.
Those with a sense of history considered the reversal somehow fitting, since Drysdale benefited by a controversial call in the 45th inning of his streak. On May 31, 1968, Drysdale hit the Giants' Dick Dietz with a pitch with the bases loaded. But umpire Harry Wendelstedt ruled that Dietz had not sufficiently tried to avoid the pitch, nullifying the run that had been forced in.
Hershiser, who said he was unconcerned about maintaining the streak a few starts ago, now is pondering possible situations tonight.
"I think it's helped, being in the pennant race," he said. "It definitely keeps you on your toes. When one pitch can determine a ballgame, the pressure is always on you.
"If we'd clinched it earlier, most of the starters would have been rested, and maybe I wouldn't have gotten it. The pressure would have been off."
Now that the Dodgers have clinched the West Division title, though, Hershiser can unblushingly pitch for the record.
"It will make a difference," he said. "Say there is a leadoff triple in the first inning. Normally, you wouldn't bring the infield in that early in a game. But tonight, maybe they would, to prevent the run. At least, I'll ask for the infielders to come in."
Should Hershiser tie Drysdale's streak tonight, he all but admitted that he would like to pitch an inning of relief sometime over the weekend in an attempt to break the record outright.
Hershiser, who has made one emergency relief appearance this season and earned a save, usually throws in the outfield between starts. He will have 5 days' rest before Game 1 of the playoffs, and he said that pitching an inning would not seriously mess up his routine going into the playoffs.
"If, by chance, I do pitch nine more tonight, we'll have to see what (Manager) Tommy (Lasorda) does," Hershiser said. "If the situation arises, I wouldn't turn it down. It might be a relief, to get that extra work, because I have an extra day off."