The battle for the National League's Cy Young Award, the race within a race, drew tighter Wednesday night.
First, the Cincinnati Reds' Danny Jackson was hammered by the Houston Astros, allowing 7 runs in 5 innings of a 7-1 loss.
Then the Dodgers' Orel Hershiser sustained his late-season roll in a 1-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves.
Jackson is 21-7. Hershiser is 21-8, having pitched six consecutive complete games and three consecutive shutouts.
Before a Dodger Stadium crowd of 42,434, Hershiser extended his shutout streak to 31 innings. He allowed only six hits in besting Atlanta's veteran right-hander, Rick Mahler (9-15).
A leadoff walk to Kirk Gibson in the ninth inning and Mike Marshall's double into the left-field corner produced the only run.
Their 15th victory in 18 games against the Braves this season allowed the Dodgers to remain 6 1/2 games ahead of the Astros in the West and to extend their lead over Cincinnati to 9.
Hershiser struck out eight and walked two. The Reds' Jackson has one more complete game (14 to 13), but Hershiser is tied or ahead of his Cy Young rival in almost every category, including earned-run average (2.52 to 2.64).
The Cy Young?
"I don't know," Hershiser said while icing his arm later. "I've got three more starts, then hopefully the playoffs. I'm really looking more at the (New York) Mets than Danny Jackson and the Cy Young."
Is he close enough to be looking at Don Drysdale's major league record of 58 consecutive scoreless innings?
"That first came up in '85 when I had 30-some in a row," he said. "In my view, (the Drysdale record is) an unbelievable feat, one of the records that may not be broken.
"It's hard enough to throw a shutout, and he threw six and then some. I don't know if I have enough innings left in the season and enough pitches left in my arm to do it.
"But I'll settle for three more (the number of starts he has left). I don't want to give up a run until I have to."
That attitude, which has characterized his shutout and complete-game streaks, was born after Hershiser lasted only two innings against the San Francisco Giants Aug. 14.
"I was embarrassed," he said. "I felt I was letting the team down. I felt I needed to bear down more. Every time I've gone out there since then, it was with the idea that I was pitching the last inning of the season.
"My animation and concentration have never been better."
Although he improved his record to 5-0 against the Braves this season, Hershiser said he has had better stuff.
"It was the worst I've thrown in the last five or six starts," he said. "I was really inconsistent. I didn't have good stuff or location. I couldn't establish a pattern. I had to work hard adjusting and got away with pitches I wouldn't have if I was going badly."
Hershiser, the ace of the Dodger staff, can be excused if his mind was elsewhere. His wife, Jamie, is scheduled for induced labor at 6:30 this morning. She attended Wednesday night's game with several friends, all potential chauffeurs in case of an emergency.
The strain may have been toughest in the seventh when the Braves loaded the bases with one out on a double by Andres Thomas, an error by Franklin Stubbs and an intentional walk to Terry Blocker.
Hershiser responded by striking out Mahler and retiring Ron Gant on a drive to deep left field, where Gibson made the catch with his back to the wall.
"I got away with a terrible pitch," Hershiser said. "If it had been midsummer or a day game (when the air isn't as heavy), Gant would have had a grand slam."
The Braves generated a mild threat again in the ninth when Ozzie Virgil singled with two out. But shortstop Alfredo Griffin backhanded Blocker's bid for a base hit deep in the hole and got the force play at second when Steve Sax made an equally fine scoop of Griffin's off-balance throw.
The Dodgers wasted a bases-loaded opportunity in the seventh when Jeff Hamilton grounded into a double play.
The ninth was quick and deadly, with Marshall's double coming on a hit-and-run.
"You hit a double with Gibby going and you can forget about it," Marshall said.
The strain in his right leg had prevented Marshall from appearing in 13 of 14 games until he returned to the lineup--with his newly shaved head--Tuesday night. He still leads the Dodgers with 77 RBIs, and the return of his healthy bat could be an elixir for an offense that has produced only 29 runs in the last 11 games and an average of only 3.1 in the 27 since Pedro Guerrero was traded.
The fact that the Dodgers have won 18 of the 27 is a testimony to the effectiveness of their pitching.
"You can't say enough for this staff," Marshall said. "It's the best we've had since I've been with the Dodgers. It consistently gives up only one or two runs. We always feel we have a chance, no matter how many runs we score."
The Dodgers scored enough to win six of the eight games against the Astros, Reds and Braves on the home stand. They now visit Cincinnati and Houston for five more.