SAN DIEGO — If he had to be reminded again of his own mortality, Orel Hershiser was grateful that at least this time it was by Tony Gwynn and not Nick Esasky.
"If someone is going to ruin your no-hitter, it might as well be the batting champion," said Hershiser, who didn't allow the Padres so much as a ball out of the infield Sunday until Gwynn opened the seventh by lining a 2-1 curveball into the left-field corner for an opposite-field double.
That was the Padres' first hit of the afternoon. A bunt single by Carmelo Martinez with one out in the eighth was the other. The Dodgers only had six hits off Padre starter Dave Dravecky, but two of those were home runs, by Candy Maldonado and Mariano Duncan, the difference in a 2-0 win that gave the Dodgers a split of the four-game series before a crowd of 42,574 at Jack Murphy Stadium.
For the fourth time in his 23 big-league starts, Hershiser had pitched a two-hitter, and was left to contemplate what might have been, just as he had on that Sunday afternoon last July against the Reds, when Esasky--a .193 hitter last season--broke up a perfect game by lining a 3-and-0 pitch for a single with two out in the eighth.
"I was thinking, don't let Gwynn hit a lame duck, which is what I did with Esasky," Hershiser said. "How many times do you get this far? I didn't want to give him a gift pitch and then feel bad about it afterward."
Hershiser said he was satisfied with the pitch he threw Gwynn. "It wasn't hit hard, but he hit it in the right place," Hershiser said. "It deserved to be a hit."
Before the Padres came to bat that inning, catcher Steve Yeager said Hershiser told him he planned to throw Gwynn a breaking pitch outside and in the dirt.
"It wasn't one of his better curves," Yeager said. "It broke, but it didn't have that sharp quickness. And Gwynn's a great hitter."
While last year's game against the Reds was the closest Hershiser came to perfection, it won't be the last, according to Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia, who caught Hershiser in the ninth Sunday.
"You know some pitchers are always going to give up hits," Scioscia said, "but Orel is one of those pitchers--like Nolan Ryan, Fernando (Valenzuela), (Dwight) Gooden--who has the possibility of a no-hitter every time he goes out there.
"Orel doesn't throw quite as hard as a Ryan or Gooden, but he's got great movement on his fastball and an outstanding curve and sinker."
Hershiser retired the first 14 Padres in order until he walked Graig Nettles on a 3-2 pitch with two out in the fifth. In his previous appearance, which came in relief against Houston, Hershiser set down nine Astros in a row without letting the ball out of the infield.
Besides Gwynn's hit, the only other ball a Dodger outfielder was required to handle was Terry Kennedy's line drive to Maldonado in center field that ended the game.
"That ball gets eaten alive in center field," Hershiser said of Kennedy's bid for a hit, which came with Gwynn on base after an error by shortstop Bill Russell. "You've got to crush it to center, and I knew he didn't hit it that well."
Hershiser, who had been bothered by a stiff back in his first two starts, said the back stiffened up again on him in the eighth. The fact that he did not have to throw that many pitches helped, though.
Hershiser, who struck out eight--including Steve Garvey three times--threw only 103 pitches, according to the count kept by pitching coach Ron Perranoski. He threw only 32 pitches in the first four innings--an average of eight an inning--before he threw 22 in the fifth, when he walked Nettles and fell behind two other hitters.
It was in the fifth, Perranoski said, that Hershiser became conscious of the no-hit possibilities, and it showed.
"He looked at the (score) board and knew he had a no-hitter going, and I think he was a little intimidated by it," Perranoski said. "He was trying to make the perfect pitch."
Hershiser said that after second baseman Duncan's leaping backhand catch of Kevin McReynolds' liner in the fifth, he had the no-hitter on his mind.
"I talked about it with Perry after I walked Nettles," Hershiser said. "He told me, 'Think about pitching a shutout, don't think about anything else,' and then he gave me a funny look.
"I said to him, 'Yeah, I'm thinking about pitching a no-hitter,' and he said, 'I could tell.' "
Once Gwynn got on, however, Hershiser's thoughts turned more practical: Namely, protecting a 1-0 lead, just as he had had to against the Reds.
"I had to take a little blow (after the hit)," said Hershiser, whose only outward reaction was to take his cap off, run his hand through his hair, and put the cap back on again.
"But then I thought, 'Oh, oh, deja vu, another 1-0 game and a man on second. Time to get back to pitching.' "