Dodger relief pitcher Jay Howell lifted the receiver from the wall phone in the visitors' clubhouse here Tuesday morning.
"Bulldog, it's for you," said Howell, beckoning to Orel Hershiser, who was holding court with about a dozen reporters.
Handing the phone to Hershiser, Howell said: "It's Margo somebody."
Hershiser broke up, as did everyone within earshot, except for teammate Ricky Horton, who strolled out of the trainers' room and innocently inquired: "Orel, is she still calling you?"
With no game to be played, the Dodgers were playing it strictly for laughs Tuesday during their optional workout at Riverfront Stadium. And who better to target than Hershiser, who tonight against the Reds gets down to the serious business of trying to pick up where he left off last season, which in a way is almost as improbable as his being a phone pal of Margo Adams.
There is, for example, the matter of Hershiser's record of 59 scoreless innings, which applies only to regular-season games and thus will be extended by as many zeroes as Hershiser can post against the Reds tonight. At least, that's the way baseball's statisticians view the record.
Hershiser has other ideas.
"They can tie it together with an asterisk, but the streak is over in my mind," he said. "If I give up a leadoff triple, I'll gladly trade an out for a run if it means we win the game.
"I'd rather beat the Reds than shut them out and lose the game in extra innings."
Hershiser was referring to his last regular-season start on Sept. 28, the one in which he broke Don Drysdale's record by shutting out San Diego for 10 innings, only to have the Padres win the game, 2-1, in 16 innings.
The streak began last Aug. 30 in Montreal, when Hershiser blanked the Expos for the last four innings of a 4-2 win over the Expos. He followed that with successive shutouts against Atlanta, Cincinnati, Atlanta again, Houston and the Giants before surpassing Drysdale's record by an inning in San Diego.
He went eight scoreless innings against the New York Mets in Game 1 of the National League playoffs before yielding two runs in the ninth inning of a 3-2 loss, a game he refers to as the low point of the season. He shut out the Mets in Game 7 of the playoffs, then blanked Oakland in Game 2 of the World Series before giving up two runs against the A's in Game 5.
Hershiser, who would have been the Dodgers' opening-day starter if he hadn't been stricken with the flu in the last week of spring training in Florida, said he is eager to begin in earnest.
"It's going to be fun," said the 1988 Cy Young Award winner, who had a 23-8 record, a 2.26 earned-run average, and allowed just 31 hits and 11 walks during his record streak. "The biggest thing now is the challenge. Last year is gone.
"It's quite a challenge, because of the expectations, because opposing hitters are going to be up for beating me and beating our team."
While Hershiser attempts an encore to his unprecedented success, another Dodger pitcher, Fernando Valenzuela, was looking forward to his first start of 1989, Friday night in Atlanta. He hopes to begin erasing the memory of a misbegotten 1988, during which he won just five games and experienced his first serious arm trouble.
And despite a spring training of decidedly mixed results--Valenzuela's ERA was above 5 and his fastball barely pushed 80 m.p.h., the left-hander seemed serene about the task before him.
"I'm ready to go," said Valenzuela. "It's good for me and the team if I stay healthy, and my shoulder feels strong right now."
Valenzuela was put on the disabled list for the first time in his career last July 31 with what was described as a stretched muscle in his shoulder, ending his streak of 255 starts without missing a turn. Frank Jobe, the Dodgers' team physician, advised against surgery and put Valenzuela on a rigorous exercise program.
Valenzuela has yet to pitch more than five innings in a game this spring, but said he's primed to take Friday's start as far as he can go against the Braves.
"I think my arm feels better now than any time in my career," he said. "But it's real hard when you go almost six months without throwing the ball."
Valenzuela, who averaged more than 255 innings a season from 1981, his first full season, through 1987, also averaged about 14 complete games a year in that time, the period in which he developed his reputation as one of the foremost closers in the game. But he absolves Manager Tom Lasorda for having him throw too many pitches in too many games, even though 160-pitch outings were not unheard of for Valenzuela.
"That's not why I hurt my arm," he said. "I stayed healthy for 7 1/2 years here, and five more years before that in the Mexican Leagues. I was lucky to stay healthy that long.
"I learned a lot from my injury last year. Now I'm not forcing my arm to throw the ball so hard. When I threw too hard, I'd drop my arm or short-arm the ball. But now I don't throw it as hard, because I know my ball will still move. I just try to go easy and let it go."
He acknowledges that the velocity isn't there--he estimates he's lost at least 5 m.p.h. from his fastball--but predicts that as the season progresses, he will pick up some of that lost speed.
"And I know more about how to pitch," said Valenzuela, a seasoned veteran even though he won't observe his 29th birthday until Nov. 1. "Location is more important to me, because my screwball still has its good rotation."