Like millions of others attracted to Game 7 of the National League’s championship series Wednesday night, Orel Hershiser, the Dodgers starting pitcher, spent some time in front of a television screen.
It happened after the first inning in which he gave up a single to the second batter he faced, walked the third and ultimately left both stranded only because Kevin McReynolds’ 2-out line drive was hit directly at third baseman Jeff Hamilton.
“I was very fortunate to get out of that inning,” Hershiser would say later. “I had good stuff warming up, but then the adreneline hit me and knocked my mechanics out of whack. I wasn’t following through. I wasn’t shifting my weight.
“I went into our video room when the inning was over, saw what I was doing wrong, made some adjustments and was able to find a groove. Looking back, I think the line drive to Hamilton was the turning point in the game. The whole spirit of the club picked up instead of the letdown of being behind right away.”
Turning the replay into a replay of his phenomenal September, Hershiser never gave the New York Mets another chance, fashioning yet another of his patented shutouts, this time on 2 days rest and amid the pressure inherent in a Game 7 environment.
Hershiser allowed only 5 hits in pitching the Dodgers to a 6-0 victory and the National League pennant. It was his third start in a 9-day span during which he also relieved once and warmed up in the late innings of another game.
By pitching 24 innings in the series he broke the championship series record of 22 innings set by Roger Clemens of the Boston Red Sox in 1986. By wrapping it up with a decisive shutout, only the third in a final game of a playoff series, he was named the playoffs’ most valuable player.
“If Orel’s not the MVP,” catcher Mike Scioscia said, “there shouldn’t even be a trophy.”
Manager Tom Lasorda was looking beyond playoff MVP.
“If he’s not the Cy Young Award winner I want an FBI investigation,” Lasorda said.
Drenched in champagne, Hershiser shook his head and said what you would expect him to say, that the award belonged to the team, that he won it only because of the shutout after the Dodgers lost the 2 other games he started.
He smiled, however, and refused to say what everyone was hoping he would say, the kind of comments that might get the World Series with the Oakland Athletics off to a rip and roaring start.
Hershiser said Monday that if the Dodgers won the playoff he would have a reply for Don Baylor, Oakland’s designated hitter on occasion. Baylor, in the wake of his team’s victory in the American League playoff, picked up on a comment made by teammate Dave Stewart and said:
“Like Stew said the other day, the Mets won 100 games, so that makes them the best team in the National League and that’s who we want to play (in the World Series).”
“I don’t think it would be proper to comment now,” he said amid the Dodgers clubhouse celebration, adding he may reconsider on “media day,” meaning Friday, when both clubs work out at Dodger Stadium.
Were the Mets the better team?
“I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” Hershiser said. “In some ways I still don’t believe we beat them.
“That’s why everyone in here is even happier than we would normally be. We’re not a team of destiny. We’re not a dominant team. We’re a team of balance that works hard and plays with its heart.
“When we’re firing on all cylinders, when we’re bunting and moving runners and doing all the little things, we can beat anyone. When even one of the cylinders breaks down, we can look like a high school team.”
The Mets looked like the high school team in the Dodgers’ 5-run second inning. A 6-0 lead made Hershiser’s job easier.
“I was only trying to get outs,” he said.
“I don’t think anyone thought I could throw a shutout, even the Mets,” he said. “I just wanted to go as hard as I could for as long as I could. After that first inning I didn’t think that would be terribly long.”
Over the 8 innings that followed, Hershiser said he had a very good curve and followed a game plan designed to surprise the Mets.
“I had already faced them three times,” he said. “I didn’t think I could keep throwing the sinker low and away. I knew they thought I’d be tired on the two days rest, that I’d be sinking the ball a lot, so I threw it up more than normal and went with a lot more hard stuff.”
And like a rubber man, Hershiser said his arm continues to feel strong, that he will be ready to start Game 2 of the World Series on Sunday--Tim Belcher is expected to pitch the Saturday opener--if that’s what Lasorda wants.
“I wouldn’t do that to him,” Lasorda said. “But then with Orel, you never know. He has a way of talking me into things.”
Said Hershiser: “I’ll pitch any time they give me the ball. I signed a contract to play and Tommy signed a contract to manage. He’s got the tough job. We can second guess him all we want.”
Hershiser has allowed only 3 earned runs in his last 83 innings and needed only 1 more out Wednesday night when he stepped off the mound, turned slowly to soak up the scene and let the roar of the crowd sink in, then struck out Howard Johnson for that final out. He knelt for a moment, then was engulfed by teammates.
Reflecting later on that moment of solitude, he said:
“I could barely hold back the tears. I wanted to thank God for everything. I took that moment before pitching to Johnson because it was a situation every kid grows up seeing in the highlight films and I wanted to suck it up.
“I mean, what’s happened in the last month in a half is unbelievable, but I don’t think it’s really sunk in and won’t until the season is completely over.
“I’m still focused on baseball. I want to stay humble. I’ve had dreams since breaking the shutout record (with 59 consecutive shutout innings) in which I wake up hearing Vin (Scully) saying I just gave up a run, I didn’t really break the record. This game can humble you in a hurry. I want to keep going at it like I’m climbing the mountain.”