Before Saturday night's game, before he pitched the Dodgers to a 6-hit, 5-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds and became a 20-game winner for the first time, Orel Hershiser had said the achievement wouldn't mean anything to him, that it was strictly a steppingstone to a larger goal--and he didn't mean the Cy Young Award.
"It won't mean anything to me until we win this thing," he said, alluding to the race in the National League West, which the Dodgers now lead by 5 games over the Houston Astros and by 6 1/2 over the Reds.
When it was over, however, when he had struck out Ron Oester to wrap up his fifth straight complete game and become the first Dodger right-hander to win 20 games since Don Sutton in 1976, he had a change of sentiment.
He first pumped his right fist, then walked toward the dugout, waving his cap in response to the standing salute from a Dodger Stadium crowd of 42,393.
"In a lot of ways," he acknowledged. "I'm excited because it was a shutout. I'm excited because Houston lost and this was a chance to gain ground on both the Astros and Reds. I'm excited personally because the world sets a standard of 20 wins, and now I've attained it.
"I went into the season with a goal of making the All-Star team. Then, halfway, I had 13 wins and began to feel that I would be letting the team down if I didn't win 20. Now I don't want to stop here. I have four more starts and I want to keep going."
With Danny Jackson having beaten the Dodgers Friday night to improve his record to 21-6, Hershiser improved his to 20-8 and spoiled the Reds' momentum, knocking another day off the calendar.
"He was fantastic," Manager Tom Lasorda said, "but I've seen him pitch with that intensity before. He's become the take-charge guy we depend on. He serves the role Fernando Valenzuela used to serve for us."
Now 80-48 and in the final month of his fifth season with the Dodgers, Hershiser was asked if the complete-game streak represents the best groove of his career.
"You get the label of being the stopper, of being the ace, and it seems like everything has come into focus in the pennant drive," he said. "I don't know if this is the best groove I've ever been in, but it's the most animated, the most energetic I've ever been in. I feel like every pitch is my last pitch."
Hershiser made his best pitches to the best Cincinnati hitter, Eric Davis, Saturday night. He struck out Davis with the bases loaded and two outs in the third inning, then later got him to hit into two double plays.
Asked later about the race within a race, the contest for the Cy Young Award, Red Manager Pete Rose said: "I've been around several Cy Young winners. I played with Steve Carlton. I played with John Denny. I'm not taking anything away from Hershiser, but I think it would be a mistake not to vote for Danny Jackson.
"Their ERAs and innings pitched are about the same, but Hershiser has more losses, less wins, less complete games and less shutouts."
None of that diminished Hershiser's excitement Saturday night, when he registered a milestone victory amid familiar support.
The Dodgers have averaged 3.5 runs in his last 8 starts and 3.1 in the 23 games since Pedro Guerrero was traded.
In their last 9 games, of which Mike Marshall has missed 8, they have scored 20 runs for an anemic average of 2.2.
Marshall was back on the bench with recurring stiffness in his right leg Saturday night as Lasorda attempted to shake up his lineup as best he could.
Alfredo Griffin went to the bench with a 10-game hitting streak and a .199 average. Dave Anderson played shortstop, Tracy Woodson first base and Mickey Hatcher right field. Rick Dempsey caught.
It wasn't a lineup designed to create anxiety for an opposing pitcher, but then left-hander Norm Charlton, 25, was making only his sixth major league start and first amid the September pressure of Dodger Stadium.
Four walks, a hit batter, a wild pitch and a balk eventually doomed the rookie.
Hatcher, who came in 0 for 14 after playing a pivotal role off the bench throughout the season, delivered a hit-and-run single in a two-run fourth inning and drove in another run with a single in the fifth.
Charlton was in the clubhouse when Dempsey hit a two-run homer off Rob Murphy in the eighth. John Shelby might have had a three-run homer in that two-run fourth except that left fielder Kal Daniels went into the field-level seats to turn it into a sacrifice fly.
Kirk Gibson--who walked twice, was hit by a pitch and scored two runs--left the game in the seventh with soreness in his right leg. A Dodger spokesman said it was a precautionary move and that Gibson is expected to play today.
Saturday night belonged to Hershiser, and he smiled and said, "My wife (Jamie) is expecting our second child in a couple weeks, and I kept worrying that she might get excited and have it tonight."