HOUSTON — In the Dodgers' broadcast booth Monday night, Hall of Fame pitcher Don Drysdale already was preparing to bequeath one of baseball's most hallowed records to Orel Hershiser, the latest generation of dominating Dodger pitchers.
That, of course, would be Drysdale's streak of 58 consecutive scoreless innings that he pitched during the 1968 season. Now, 20 years later, Hershiser is romancing the record with a 40-inning scoreless pitching streak after beating the Houston Astros, 1-0, for his fourth straight shutout.
A bit premature? For sure.
But the way Drysdale figures it, if his name must be expunged from the record books, it's better to keep it in the family, and all that.
"Oh, yes, I'm pulling for him," said Drysdale, chuckling. "Hey, that's what records are for--to be broken. At least it's another guy on the Dodgers (trying to) do it, and one with his (uniform) number in the 50s."
Considering the dominating way Hershiser is pitching--he last gave up a run in the fifth inning of his Aug. 30 start in Montreal--the only thing that might stop Hershiser is the schedule. He has only two starts left, and assuming he pitches shutouts each time, he still would be 2/3 of an inning shy of equaling Drysdale's record.
Hershiser said he was humbled by the thought of even approaching such a record, one that he said he believes will never be broken. He said afterward that he merely is happy to help the Dodgers win the National League West title.
That eventuality is only games away now. With Monday night's win, the Dodgers hold a 9 1/2-game lead over the Cincinnati Reds and a 10-game edge over both the Astros and the San Francisco Giants. A combination of five Dodger wins and Red losses would give the Dodgers the championship.
A coy Tommy Lasorda still hasn't named his starter for the opening game of the playoff series, but Hershiser's recent performances may not give him any other choice.
As dominating as Hershiser was Monday night, he obviously could not have won without at least a modicum of offensive support. That was provided by John Shelby, who belted a home run to right field to lead off the seventh inning for the game's only run.
So, in a way, this impressive streak Hershiser has put together really is a testimony to self-preservation. So scarce is the Dodgers' run production these days that if Hershiser does not shut out opponents, he might not win.
Monday night's victory was Hershiser's 22nd, keeping pace with Cincinnati's Danny Jackson, who also won his 22nd game Monday night, in the Cy Young Award race.
Hershiser, who openly expresses his desire to win the prestigious award, has made a late push that seemingly has vaulted him into the favorite's role. He has won five straight games--four via shutouts--and has posted seven straight complete games. In that seven-game span, Hershiser has a 0.57 earned-run average.
The most impressive statistic, however, is Hershiser's scoreless inning streak. But Hershiser, normally optimistic to a fault, said he does not believe he can surpass Drysdale.
"It's hard enough to throw one shutout, let alone two more in my last two starts," Hershiser said. "Even if I did, I still would come up short."
Maybe not, Hershiser was advised. There is the possibility--considering the slumbering ways of the Dodger offense--that Hershiser would have to pitch extra innings in one of his two remaining starts, thus qualifying.
Or, he could always request to work an inning of relief, something that no doubt would not thrill Manager Tom Lasorda.
"Oh yeah, I can just see me asking Tommy to do that on the last day of the season with the playoffs coming up," Hershiser said.
Lasorda laughed at that scenario.
"That's a hell of a question you're asking me," Lasorda said. "To paraphrase the words of a great leader, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
Hershiser already has crossed one threshold to become one of baseball's best pitchers. If he continues on this scoreless pace, he will reach an even higher level.
As best the Elias Sports Bureau could determine Monday night, Hershiser has the 4th-longest scoreless streak in National League history. In 1968, the same season Drysdale pitched 58 scoreless innings, St. Louis' Bob Gibson pitched 47 straight scoreless innings. Carl Hubbell pitched 46 in 1933, a record that stood until Drysdale broke it.
Hershiser said Drysdale did not mention the streak during his postgame television interview afterward. Asked about it by sportswriters, Hershiser basically said the record is unattainable.
"I doubt it can be done," he said. "I really do. I've always said that that might be the one record that would never be broken. I'm not just trying to jinx myself or anything. But it's true."
Hershiser's next start will come Saturday against the Giants at Candlestick Park. The last time Hershiser faced the Giants, Aug. 14 at Dodger Stadium, he lasted only 2 innings and allowed 5 earned runs and 7 hits. That turned out to be Hershiser's last outing before his 7-game complete-game streak.