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Dodgers Shut Out Braves : Hershiser Notches His 19th Victory With a 4-Hitter

September 06, 1988|SAM McMANIS | Times Staff Writer

ATLANTA — When Dodger pitcher Orel Hershiser hunkers down at his personal computer to log data about Monday night's outing, a 4-hit shutout of the woeful Atlanta Braves, he probably will not note the quality of competition or the ease with which he won his 19th game.

In the analytical mind of Hershiser it didn't matter that a rainout Sunday in New York aborted his scheduled start against the team with the National League's best record and, instead, pitted him against the league's worst team.

"The key is not to think you're playing the Mets, not playing the Braves," Hershiser said. "The key is to just go out and beat whoever's out there. If we can just narrow things down to a minimum, it gives us the best chance to win our division."

Hershiser, predictably dominant against the Braves, moved the Dodgers another step closer to the Western Division title by pitching the Dodgers to a 3-0 victory in front of 10,768 fans at Fulton County Stadium.

In limiting the Braves to three harmless singles and a double and in striking out slugger Dale Murphy four times, Hershiser enabled the Dodgers to maintain a 5-game lead over the second-place Houston Astros.

So dominanting was Hershiser that perhaps even the Mets, who won 10 of 11 games against the Dodgers, would have been stifled. Hershiser possessed as good a sinking fastball as he has had this season and pitched with exacting location.

"He had it all going," catcher Mike Scioscia said. He also used both sides of the plate. When he's like that, he's tough for anyone to beat."

So, could he have handled the Mets?

"I don't know," he said. "I had this kind of stuff against the Mets (Aug. 24) in L.A. and lost, 2-1."

On this night, against Braves starter Rick Mahler, the Dodgers produced two runs, more than enough to win, in the first inning. They added another in the third.

Mickey Hatcher, the unlikely clean-up hitter forced into that role because of the continued absence of Mike Marshall (strained right thigh muscle), drove in Alfredo Griffin from second base with a single to left field. When the ball rolled by Braves left fielder Dion James for an error, Kirk Gibson scored from first base despite being hampered by a strained right buttock.

Thus given a 2-0 lead before he stepped on the mound, Hershiser proceeded to give up a two-out first-inning double to Gerald Perry. But Hershiser struck out Murphy, despite hanging a 2-and-1 curveball that Murphy missed.

"I hung two curveballs to Murphy early," Hershiser said. "On that one, he could've made it 2-2 in a hurry. Fortunately, he missed it."

Many more misses would be forthcoming, particularly after Hershiser found a rhythm in the middle innings. Hershiser, with an extra day's rest, said he felt too strong in the bullpen warming up and in the first four innings. As a result, he said, he tried to overthrow a few pitches.

But, after walking James with two out in the third inning, Hershiser did not allow another baserunner until Jeff Blauser's single to open the ninth. All told, Hershiser retired 16 straight batters in that span--including three more Murphy strikeouts.

"I was struggling early on because I felt too strong," Hershiser said. "I made a decision in the bullpen to come out strong rather than try to air it out in the bullpen and get fatigued. So, for the first four innings, I overthrew the ball. But after that, I wore the edge off."

Hershiser's decision, obviously, was the correct one. But he said that, in his younger, less cerebral days (circa 1985), he might have taken a different approach.

"I probably would have worked my rear end off, because as a young pitcher, you fear going to the mound with bad stuff," Hershiser said. "Now, I think I can get guys out even without my best stuff by making the right pitches and adjusting. You can have confidence in your ability and with your head. Now, I have both. In 1985, I didn't have that kind of confidence."

Hershiser won 19 games in 1985, his second major league season. With five starts remaining this season, he will have ample opportunity to try to become the Dodgers' first 20-game winner since Fernando Valenzuela in 1986.

"I've got five more starts to do it," Hershiser said. "Hopefully, I won't stop at 20. I want to win as many as possible and help the team win our division."

Just as Hershiser unblushingly calls 20 victories a goal, he also is not shy in expressing his desire to merit consideration for the Cy Young Award. Valenzuela, in 1981, was the last Dodger to win it.

Hershiser's major competition figures to be Cincinnati's Danny Jackson, who won his 20th game on Sunday, Reds reliever John Franco and Mets starter David Cone.

"Jackson, who does he play for?" Hershiser kiddingly asked. "What does he have, 14 or 15 wins? Really, I think several guys have pitched well enough to deserve it."

In the estimation of many of his teammates, Hershiser is a leading candidate.

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