PITTSBURGH — Orel Hershiser, coming off a rave cameo appearance as a reliever earlier in the week, was back as the Dodgers' top-billed pitcher Thursday night, though you would not have known it from his performance.
By the end of an inexplicably ineffective night for Hershiser, a few letters had fallen from the marquee and the lights had burned out. Perhaps the letters were knocked off by the long-distance shots of Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla in the Pirates' 7-4 victory over the Dodgers.
Having opened the season with six straight wins, Hershiser was definitely out of character against a Pirate lineup that may still lack name recognition but not power. Hershiser blamed it on location--of his pitches, not the game itself.
"I threw the best I have all year, except for the location," Hershiser said. "It was a bad day at the office."
Coincidentally or not, it came two days after Hershiser made a brief change of offices and worked an inning out of the bullpen in a 14-inning game in Chicago, earning a save.
Perhaps Hershiser, the starter, should have called upon Hershiser, the reliever, to save this torpid outing. Hershiser was rudely welcomed back to a starting gig when Bonds led off the first inning with a home run. Bonds struck again with a two-run homer in the third, and Bonilla crushed a three-run homer in the seventh that proved Hershiser's undoing.
While Hershiser struggled, a guy named Smiley left Dodger hitters frowning. Pittsburgh left-hander John Smiley, using an assortment of off-speed pitches, threw a seven-hitter. He gave up three runs in the fourth inning and one in the ninth, but otherwise shut down an offense that had been productive before arriving in town.
The Dodgers (19-11) have lost 2 straight after winning 6 of their previous 7 games. Thursday's had to be the most surprising loss, given Hershiser's previous dominance.
Hershiser offered a quick dissent when it was suggested that his one-day relief duty was a factor Thursday night.
"Not at all," he said. "I felt great. I had no problems other than my location. The (pitches that yielded) home runs were all poorly located, and I wish I had them back. Physically, I felt good. Mechanically, I felt all right. But something's missing."
That something, on this night, was the movement on his sinker and the placement of his fastball. It resulted in what was easily Hershiser's most ineffective outing. He allowed all 7 runs, 12 hits and 3 walks, while striking out 4.
About the best thing you could say about Hershiser was that he made it through seven innings, meaning the bullpen basically had a night off.
Brad Havens, passed over the previous two games in which the bullpen was busy, pitched a scoreless eighth inning in what turned out to be his farewell performance. Havens, a left-hander, was sent outright to Albuquerque, N.M., after the game, and Tim Crews was recalled.
Because he has more than three years of major league experience, Havens has three days to decide if he will report to the triple-A Pacific Coast League or become a free agent. Havens said he will take the weekend to think about it.
Hershiser, meanwhile, probably will be thinking about his first loss until, perhaps, his next start. He was baffled by the sudden loss of command on his pitches, and pitching coach Ron Perranoski had no answer, either.
"He was inconsistent with his stuff," Perranoski said. "He got the sinker up, which is a mechanics thing. But he was inconsistent. He threw some real good pitches, then some real terrible pitches."
The bad may not have outnumbered the good, but they were more damaging.
Bonds hit a sinker (that didn't sink) into the right-field seats in the first inning, then deposited a hanging curve into roughly the same spot in the third. Bonilla said he didn't know what he hit for his three-run shot in the seventh, which broke a 3-3 tie, but he knew it wasn't one of Hershiser's better offerings.
"He's an outstanding pitcher, and I was pumped up to face him," said Bonilla, now tied with New York's Darryl Strawberry for the league lead in home runs with 10. "He's so consistent that I was surprised when I got a fastball--I think--where I could hit it out.
"You won't see that very often."
Actually, Hershiser had not been as overpowering in recent starts as he had been early. He gave up 10 hits and 2 earned runs last week against Pittsburgh and 3 earned runs in a win over St. Louis in late April. In his last 3 outings, Hershiser has given up 6 home runs.
As a result, the Dodgers finished their first Eastern trip by spliting six games. The two losses to the Pirates marked only the second time this season that the Dodgers have lost consecutive games.
The Dodger offense lately has been either extremely prolific or acutely barren. Thursday, the team managed only two rallies to speak of against Smiley, a left-hander.