The news came in last week that Orel Hershiser was the winner of the National League’s Cy Young Award, and that was perfectly appropriate.
The figures were resplendent enough, 23-8, with that nice 2.26 earned-run average and those eight shutouts. Also, his streak of 59 scoreless innings was extraordinary, wiping out the supposedly unassailable records held by such illustrious names as Walter P. Johnson and Donald S. Drysdale.
Fancy as they are, those accomplishments now reside in the shadow of Hershiser’s more shining deeds in the recent World Series that the Dodgers were not supposed to win from the Oakland A’s. In his first Series start, he simply shut out the A’s on two hits. In the fifth game, the one that could wrap it up for the Dodgers, Hershiser responded with a four-hitter, whacked three hits himself, and won it, 3-2.
A lasting memory is what he did to Tony Phillips, the last Oakland hitter in the ninth, the one Hershiser had to get, with two out, to make everything historic. He was tiring, but he stared down any move by Manager Tommy Lasorda to go to the bullpen. He got the second strike on Phillips with a low outside pitch in the dirt that Phillips foolishly swung at. Ha, so that’s what Phillips liked. So, from Hershiser, another of the same, not quite as low, not quite in the dirt, but suitably outside and similar enough to evoke Phillips’ interest. He offered at strike three, and the Dodgers were the champs.
For the millions watching on television, the next scene was Hershiser falling to his knees in his gratitude. No histrionics there. He was simply acknowledging a greater power. What a signature to a superb pitching performance. He had captured the moment.
So where, in World Series pitching history, does this leave Orel Hershiser with his 2-0 unbeaten record and 1.00 earned run average? Until he improves on his record, he must be rated only moderately successful, compared with the company he keeps. There are too many other World Series pitching heroes out there with greater bragging rights.
One of these was a former pitcher, later an outfielder, known as Babe Ruth. They didn’t discover the Babe was an outfielder and home-run hitter until his sixth season with the Red Sox, just before he was traded to the Yankees in 1920. Ruth was doing too many nice things for the Red Sox on the pitching mound.
He was 21 years old when he got his first World Series start for Boston in 1916, against Brooklyn. This was after a 23-win season in which left-hander Ruth’s 1.75 ERA led the league. He allowed the Dodgers one run, and won the game.
It was two years later, in the 1918 Series against the Cubs, that Ruth was more impressive. In Game 1, he made the one run the Red Sox gave him stand up for a 1-0 shutout. It was in Game 5 of that Series that the Babe peaked. He allowed the Cubs a first-inning run and no more until the Red Sox won it in the 14th. Oh, yes, the Babe drove in two of the three Boston runs with a three-bagger. His ERA for three World Series games was 0.87.
Besides pitching 20 games for Boston that year and winning 13 of them, Ruth was also doing such odd jobs as playing 59 games in the outfield and 13 at first base. His versatility is underscored by the memory that outfielder Joe DiMaggio once tried to play first base for the Yankees, made a mess of it and quit in confusion.
Yet, Ruth wasn’t the biggest World Series pitching hero. There were some others who eclipsed him. Christy Mathewson of the 1905 Giants, who invented the “fadeaway” that turned out to be nothing more than a modern screwball in that era of “in drops” and “out drops,” probably towered over the lot.
All Matty did in that year’s World Series was to shut out the Phillies in the first and third games, and two days later shut ‘em out again. Earned-run average: 0.00. And even with that ERA, Mathewson had company among World Series pitchers. Waite Hoyt of the Yankees posted that figure in his three games against the 1921 Giants, but unfortunately an unearned run licked him, 1-0, in one of his starts. Hershiser will have high regard for Hoyt’s 1.83 ERA in his 10 World Series games.
During one stretch in the World Series of 1961-63, little Whitey Ford, who had every pitch, including a slow one with backup lights, threw 33 consecutive scoreless innings at his opponents, the Pirates and Reds. He lost his bid for a third-straight shutout, but Ford still tops everybody with his 10 Series victories.
Sandy Koufax, in his seven World Series starts, held opponents to an average of less than one run per game, but could win only four of them. For sheer pitching artistry in a modern Series, the performance by Koufax against Minnesota in 1965 is commended to Hershiser despite a loss in Koufax’s three starts. For that Series, Koufax’s ERA was .038.
In Hershiser’s later days, when he contemplates where he stands in the company of World Series pitching greats, he might also study the record of Lefty Gomez of the Yankees. The skinny, hard-balling Gomez started six Series games and won ‘em all, the book says.
So, Hershiser, a great pitcher, still has worlds to conquer.