UPDATED: 09.29.13 at 10 a.m.
Twenty-five years later, people still come up to Orel Hershiser and ask him about his consecutive scoreless record streak.
Sometimes it starts with: How many innings was it again?
“I’m at a point where I’m not sure anymore, after they (the Major League Baseball official stat keepers) changed Don Drysdale’s number right in the middle of everything,” said the Dodgers’ 1988 Cy Young Award winner.
“I’ve been told the wrong number so many times. People say, ‘You still have that world record, right?’
“It’s a rhetorical question. Just like people who meet me think I’m in the Hall of Fame. I never correct them. Why disappoint them?”
Don’t be disappointed to learn that, for the record, the streak is 59 and doing fine. Also to make clear: Hershiser hasn’t made the Hall of Fame. At least as far as he can recall.
“Days are long, years are short, I can’t believe I’m actually retired,” said Hershiser, who recently turned 55 – his old uniform number.
Working the last nine years as a game analyst for ESPN, a candidate to someday to join the Dodgers’ broadcasting crew on a regular basis, Hershiser will forever be the boyish symbol of the 1988 Dodger title team and linked with the grizzled Hall of Famer Drysdale, able to surpass his mark as if everyone stayed on a pre-written Hollywood script.
For starters, Hershiser had to throw five complete-game shutouts between Sept. 5 in Atlanta and Sept. 23 in San Francisco just to get in the neighborhood.
Close calls? Nothing like the one against the Giants that appeared to end the whole thing at 42, only to have umpire Paul Runge decide that San Francisco’s Brett Butler went too far out of the base line to break up a double play at second, erasing a run and ending the inning.
That fed directly to the night in San Diego — Sept. 28, 1988, his last start of the season before the playoffs, in a contest that only some 22,000 actually saw at the park because it wasn’t televised.
Hershiser had to throw nine scoreless innings to tie it, 10 to break it, or else face the possibility of having to make a relief appearance in the final four games to do it.
That meant his teammates couldn’t score a run and Padres pitcher Andy Hawkins had to match him with zeros.
And that’s how it somehow happened.
“You know about the baseball superstition when no one talks to a pitcher throwing a no-hitter,” said Tim Leary, Hershiser’s teammate on that ’88 team who had 17 victories himself and actually struck out more batters than him during the regular season. “No one would talk to Orel about it.
“And during that game in San Diego, we were trying to score. If we could have won that game 10-0, we would have and it would have been fine. But as things happened, it was just magical that it did go extra innings, and that was a record that was apparently made to be broken.”
When Dodgers right fielder Jose Gonzalez caught a fly ball hit by Padres pinch hitter Keith Moreland with the winning run on third base in the bottom of the 10th, Hershiser got down on a one knee and gave thanks.
Hershiser, as if it was in a movie, was then embraced in the dugout by Drysdale, the Dodgers’ broadcaster working that game who was freed up to go downstairs with Vin Scully in the booth calling the play-by-play.
And even though the contest wasn’t over – Hershiser’s night was, but the game ended up going 16 innings before the Padres won, 2-1 – the two were escorted to a media room to hold a press conference.
Too many surreal things to recall during a month of Dodger miracles, and even more to come.
In 1968, Drysdale threw six consecutive shutouts between May 14 and June 4. He had four more scoreless innings on June 8 against the Phillies before the streak ended on a sacrifice fly.
That broke a record held for 52 years by Walter Johnson – the Hall of Famer threw 55 2/3 innings. Assume those last 2/3 have also been erased.
How Hershiser, whom manager Tommy Lasorda had already dubbed “Bulldog,” was able not to just seize a moment, but the entire month of September, is astounding to this day.
“Some people are so mentally strong they can just will things to happen, like a Muhammad Ali,” said Leary, a Santa Monica native who remembers attending the June 4, ‘68 game where Drysdale shut out Pittsburgh, 5-0 – the same night presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated not very far away.
“Orel just never made a mistake. Everything he threw was at the knees or below. He was more than just a zone. Real precision. Every hit he gave up was just a jam-shot flair, or a grounder that got through the infield somehow.”
The cerebral Hershiser agrees that “I was always just a ‘good’ pitcher, not a ‘great’ one. I think about it now. I didn’t have a 97 mph fastball or an unbelievable curve ball. I had the sinker, and I figured out a way to win. I thought through it all.”
With Mike Scioscia as his primary receiver and conductor – although Rick Dempsey did catch one game during the streak – Hershiser was truly the master of the house, an entrance song that Dodger Stadium organist Nancy Bea Hefley played for him from the Broadway play, “Les Miserables.”
Hershiser laughs when asked if he can play that game over in his mind from 25 years ago.
“I’m not that kind of a player who sits down and has a beer and talks old times,” he said. “I’ve got enough things to remember in my head these days, running seven businesses, trying to keep up with all the ESPN things.”
“Even though I had retired 19 Padres on ground balls and was probably as sharp as I had been all year, I would not get a decision in the game,” Hershiser wrote. “It would not count as a shutout or a complete game, even though it was really more impressive than either (of the previous five). . .
“The streak had been a dream, but I was glad it was over for 1988. All those innings wouldn’t mean a thing when Mookie Wilson came to the plate for the Mets in the first game of the National League Championship Series.”
Hershiser actually continued the scoreless streak into the playoffs, although it wasn’t added to the record number. He posted eight more zeros against the Mets in Game 1 of the NLCS at Dodger Stadium on Oct. 4 until Darryl Strawberry’s double scored a run in the top of the ninth. Jay Howell came in on relief, and couldn’t hold a 2-1 lead.
Hershiser didn’t have very different statistical numbers in ’89 than he did in ’88 as far as a league-leading innings pitched and a similar ERA, but his record was a pedestrian 15-15, again due to lack of run support. He had half as many shutouts – four, instead of eight — and only had two more in the 11 seasons after that.
He never really came close to matching that scoreless innings mark in a career that was derailed for a time by shoulder surgery. He left to play in Cleveland (World Series appearances in ’95 and ’97), San Francisco and the New York Mets before circling back to finish his career as a 41-year-old Dodger starter in 2000. In his final six starts in L.A., he allowed 36 earned runs in 24-plus innings for a 13.14 ERA and 1-5 mark.
With 204 career wins and a 3.48 ERA in more than 3,000 innings, Hershiser’s place in the Dodgers all-time record books includes 10th overall in wins (135), 16th in ERA (3.12), sixth in strikeouts (1,456) and ninth in shutouts (24, one more than Bob Welch).
As much as Hershiser is a collector of sports memorabilia – he says he has his jersey and spikes from that game — he only recently gave up possession of the ball that Gonzalez caught for the last out. ESPN’s Keith Olbermann, a sports anchor at KCBS-Channel 2 at the time, bought it six months ago.
“It is a signal event in MLB history but obviously has an additional resonance for me because I had such fun covering Orel and that streak,” said Olbermann. “To say nothing of the fact that he’s remained a friend for all the years since, and of course he’s a fellow collector.
“I remember that we thought that night he broke Don’s record everybody at KCBS agreed it was so important that we delayed whatever the network had on and extended the late news to show the highlights and get to Tony Hernandez covering the game in San Diego. I do recall the game wasn’t available live in L.A. Good luck explaining that to anybody under 35.”
Hershiser has also given up trying to predict if that mark of 59 will ever be eclipsed. Very few starters, or relief pitchers, have even reach as many as 30 scoreless innings in the time since then.
“Sometimes, I think it’s gotten harder, sometimes it seems easier,” he said.
“When they tightened the strike zones, build new smaller ballparks, when hitters were, shall we say, more juiced, then it was a record that was much harder to break,” he said. “Now that there’s drug testing, it makes it a little easier I suppose.
“I do think it’s possible to break, though. If I could do it, I’d think someone else could. In fact, I actually hope someone breaks it so they can enjoy what baseball is at that level. It would be so cool, if that guy would call me and ask me to be there at the game when he breaks it.”
Maybe by that point, Hershiser will actually be a bonafide Hall of Famer.
Orel Hershiser’s scoreless inning streak:
Game 1: Sept. 5 at Atlanta
The situation: Hershiser allowed two runs in the fifth inning to Montreal during his previous start on Oct. 30. His scheduled start the day before in New York against the NL East-leading Mets was rained out. This one, against the NL East-worst Braves, worked out much nicer.
The highlights: He retired 16 in a row at one point and struck out cleanup hitter Dale Murphy four times, including the final out. In the 3-0 victory, Hershiser won his 19th game of the season, walking one and striking out eight, throwing 109 pitches.
The streak: 13 innings
Game 2: Sept. 10 at Los Angeles vs. Cincinnati
The situation: The Dodgers’ lead, at 79-60, was four games over second place Houston.
The highlights: The Reds loaded the bases on the second inning, but Hershiser got Eric Davis to strike out on a check swing. With a runner on third in the seventh inning, Reds manager Pete Rose sent Ken Griffey to pinch hit. He hit a fly ball to Kirk Gibson in left, but the runner, catcher Jeff Reed, didn’t try to score. Barry Larkin struck out to end the threat. Hershiser struck out Ron Oester with a running on second to end the game with a 5-0 Dodgers victory. Hershiser scattered seven hits and three walks in 109 pitches, winning his 20th game.
The streak: 22 innings.
Game 3: Sept. 14 at Los Angeles vs. Atlanta
The situation: The Dodgers had a 6 ½ game lead over Houston.
The highlights: It was scoreless going into the seventh when Andres Thomas doubled and went to third on a grounder to first by Dion James, who was safe on a late throw to Hershiser covering. Ozzie Virgil grounded to Franklin Stubbs at first, who made the putout, Thomas holding and James going to second. After an intentional walk to Terry Blocker, pitcher Rick Mahler was allowed to hit for himself. He struck out. Ron Gant hit a long fly ball to left, which Kirk Gibson caught against the wall. The Dodgers pulled out a 1-0 win in the bottom of the ninth when Mike Marshall drove home Gibson. Hershiser won his 21st game on 103 pitches with eight strikeouts.
Hershiser quote: “(Drysdale) threw six shutouts. I don’t know if I have enough innings left in the season and enough pitches in my arm to do it. But I’ll settle for three more (shutouts). I don’t want to give up a run until I have to.”
The streak: 31 innings
Game 4: Sept. 19 at Houston
The situation: The 86-61 Dodgers were nine games up on Houston and San Francisco. Hershiser’s son, Jordan, was born on Sept. 15 but with complications and was in intensive care. Hershiser celebrated his 30th birthday on Sept. 16.
The highlights: Nolan Ryan took the mound for the Astros, the third time he’d faced Hershiser that season, losing the previous two. Hershiser needed 96 pitches in a 1-0 victory, provided by John Shelby’s seventh-inning home run. In the spacious Astrodome, Hershiser got away with allowing 15 fly outs.
Hershiser quote: “I doubt (Drysdale’s record) can be done. I really do. I’ve always said that might be the one record that would never be broken. I’m not just trying to jinx myself or anything. But it’s true.”
The streak: 40 innings, the fourth longest in NL history.
Game 5: Sept. 23 at San Francisco
The situation: The 89-63 Dodgers were eight games up on Cincinnati.
The highlights: In the bottom of the third, Jose Uribe singled, reached second when Hershiser couldn’t field Atlee Hammaker’s sacrifice bunt, Brett Butler grounded to third and beat out a double-play attempt. Runners at the corners with one out. Ernest Riles grounded to second. Steve Sax threw to Alfredo Griffin for one out, but Griffin’s throw to first sailed past first baseman Tracy Woodson, allowing Uribe to score. Streak over at 42? No. Second-base umpire Bob Engle ruled that Butler and Riles were both out because Butler went out of the baseline on his slide at second. Inning over. No runs. The Dodgers’ 3-0 victory, provided by a Mickey Hatcher home run, came when Mike Aldrete flew out to center. Hershiser improved to 23-8, striking out just two on 112 pitches. He had 20 ground-ball outs.
Hershiser quote: “I’d have to pitch 10 innings in my last start anyway. To say the record is breakable is crazy.”
The streak: 49 innings.
Game 6: Sept. 28 in San Diego
The situation: The 92-65 Dodgers had already clinched the division. There were four games left in the regular season. The game, however, was not televised to the L.A. audience. Nor was it covered nationally.
The highlight: Hershiser needed Padres pitcher Andy Hawkins to match him with shutout innings in order to reach 10. Hershiser singled off Hawkins in the third inning to make things interesting. He came to bat in the fifth with Alfredo Griffin at second, but grounded out to end the inning. Hershiser breezed through the Padres’ lineup that included Tony Gwynn, Roberto Alomar, Benito Santiago and Garry Templeton. Hershiser tied Drysdale’s record of 58 innings with just eight pitches in the bottom on the ninth to keep the scoreless game alive going to the 10th inning. Marvell Wynn led off by striking out, but reached first on a passed ball. Santiago sacrificed Wynn to second, and he went to third on Randy Ready’s ground out to shortstop. Templeton was walked intentionally to reach pinch hitter Keith Moreland. He lofted a fly to right field. Jose Gonzalez caught it.
Drysdale quote: “My record – I mean his record – well, I guess it can be topped. At least it stays in the family.”
The streak: 59 innings.
Note: Hershiser gave up 30 hits (27 singles and three doubles) with 11 walks with 38 strike outs during the six consecutive shutouts, all in September.