Orel Hershiser proved the appropriateness of the nickname again Thursday night.
He did it with both bark and bite.
“I don’t usually get emotional on the mound, but when I get upset it just makes me pitch better,” the amazing Hershiser said after restricting the Oakland Athletics to 4 hits and pitching the Dodgers to a 5-2 victory and the championship of the 85th World Series.
Hershiser got upset at himself in a tense eighth inning after earlier getting upset at the A’s attempt to disrupt his rhythm by repeatedly stepping in and out of the batter’s box.
“They were trying anything,” said Hershiser, who finally had enough of it while Tony Phillips was batting in the fifth inning.
“I walked in to talk to (catcher) Rick Dempsey, but I talked loud enough to let Phillips and the umpire hear me,” he said. “I asked Rick at what time and how often can they do it (step out).
“I wanted to let them know I didn’t like it and that anytime I get aggravated I become a better pitcher.
“I wanted to let them know it was inspiring me and not affecting me adversely. People would have better luck if they tried to lull me to sleep. The A’s made sure I stayed awake.”
Awake? Is there any other way to describe Hershiser’s accomplishments of the last 2 months except to call them eye-opening?
Combined with his 3-hit, 6-0 shutout in Game 2 of the World Series, his victory in Game 5 Thursday night netted him the Most Valuable Player award and a car that he will donate to charity.
Hershiser stood on the TV platform at one end of the Dodger clubhouse, held his MVP trophy overhead and yelled to his roaring teammates at the other end of the clubhouse:
“Hey, guys, this is for you.”
A week earlier he had won the same award as MVP of the National League playoffs against the New York Mets.
In all, he made 6 post-season appearances and was 3-0 with 1 save and a 1.05 earned-run average.
He allowed 2 runs and 7 singles in his 2 World Series starts and finished the season with an overall record of 26-8, having last lost on Aug. 14.
Incredibly, in his last 101 innings, including the 59 consecutive shutout innings with which he ended the regular season, Hershiser allowed a total of only 5 runs.
Said Manager Tom Lasorda:
“I can’t find words to describe what he’s accomplished. I saw it but can’t believe it. There’s no way we would have done what we did without him.”
Added Kirk Gibson:
“For as long as we live we may never see a pitcher accomplish what he’s accomplished. We may never see a pitcher in a better groove for as long as he’s been in this one.
“If you put the names of 10 pitchers in a hat, I’d want to make sure I picked his.”
MVP in the playoffs. MVP in the World Series. Certain winner of the National League Cy Young Award.
“Well, I think I’ll retire,” he said, smiling, knowing that isn’t about to happen, not when he’s king of the hill and almost certain to double his $1.1-million salary of 1988.
Amid a battery of interviews in the wake of his latest and last victory of the year, Hershiser said it hasn’t all sunk in yet and probably won’t until he sees the club’s highlight film.
He said he never questioned the Dodgers’ heart, but had serious doubts about the talent.
“I didn’t think we could win the division. I didn’t think we could win the playoffs. I didn’t think we could beat the A’s in the Series,” he said.
“I’ll never accept that we were the better team, but that was one of my motivating factors. I felt I had to be at my best every time I pitched.”
And every time he pitched over the last 2 months there was pressure. The pressure of the bid to break Don Drysdale’s record for consecutive shutout innings. The pressure of the playoffs and World Series.
“It kept building,” he said, “and I kept telling myself that I didn’t want this to be the bad outing. I didn’t want people saying he couldn’t handle the pressure. I kept pumping myself, telling myself to take it one pitch and one batter at a time. I couldn’t have handled any other approach. Nine innings would have been too much.”
Thursday night, as he faced the A’s amid the ongoing pressure, Hershiser said he even hummed and sang hymns to himself to clear his mind.
“There’s so much pressure that it’s almost a spiritual experience anyway,” he said. “I was just trying to stay relaxed. I was trying to convince myself that it was another game. Maybe I haven’t even realized yet that it was more than that.”
In reality, he knew it in the eighth inning when 2 walks and a ground single up the middle by Stan Javier made it 5-2. A wild pitch put runners on second and third with 1 out and Jose Canseco and Dave Parker coming up.
Alejandro Pena and Jesse Orosco were warming up in the bullpen, and Hershiser said he saw Lasorda looking down that way.
“Two walks and a ground ball I should have fielded,” Hershiser said of Javier’s single. “It was a jam of my own making and I wanted the chance to work out of it.”
Lasorda gave it to him, and Hershiser rewarded the faith. He popped up Canseco on an inside fastball and struck out Parker on two straight curves in the dirt, pitches of the type Parker had said in interviews Wednesday that you have to stay away from if you’re going to beat Hershiser.
“When he swung and missed the first one,” Hershiser said in reflection, “I said to myself, ‘if he’s going to do it once, maybe he’ll do it again.”
Parker did, and Hershiser went on to strike out three of the last five batters he faced on a night when he said his stuff was outstanding but his control was considerably less than that.
Later, as he made his way through crowds to the interview room, a young fan yelled, “You were lucky, Hershiser.”
Bulldog, turned, smiled and said, “Grab a bat, kid.”
The A’s, like others, before them had tried and failed.
HERSHISER IN POSTSEASON PLAY
DATE OPPONENT/SITE INN. H R ER BB SO SCORE Oct. 5 New York Mets (Home) 8 7 2 2 1 6 2-3* Oct. 8 New York Mets (Road) 7 6 3 1 4 4 4-8* Oct. 9 New York Mets (Road) 0 0 0 0 0 5-4** Oct. 12 New York Mets (Home) 9 5 0 0 2 2 6-0 Oct. 16 Oakland (Home) 9 3 0 0 2 8 6-0 Oct. 20 Oakland (Road) 9 4 2 2 4 9 5-2 TOTALS 42 25 7 5 13 29
*--Dodgers lost--Hershiser not involved in decision
**--Hershiser gets save in relief appearance
HERSHISER IN LAST 13 APPEARANCES
TOTALS W L ND SV INN. H R ER BB SO ERA 9 0 3 1 106 61 9 7 24 73 0.59