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Hershiser Out of Zeroes, Luck : Reds Snap His String Quickly, Hand Dodgers 4-3 Loss

April 06, 1989|GORDON EDES | Times Staff Writer

CINCINNATI — In about the time it takes to sing a hymn, sign a contract, or burst a bubble, the Cincinnati Reds proved Wednesday night what Orel Hershiser has been saying now for weeks: 1988 is over.

One inning into Hershiser's 1989 regular-season debut, the Reds had a run on the Riverfront Stadium scoreboard on Todd Benzinger's run-scoring single to end the phenomenal stretch of 59 consecutive zeroes that the Dodger pitcher had posted in his record-setting streak at the end of last season.

Eight innings later, Cincinnati reliever John Franco struck out Kirk Gibson to put the finishing touches on the Reds' 4-3 victory and Hershiser's first loss since last Aug. 24, a period spanning a dozen starts--including three in the league playoffs and two in the World Series, plus one dramatic postseason relief appearance against the New York Mets.

"I'm sure Orel knew that sometime or other this year, he'd get scored upon," said Franco, who has yet to give up a run to the Dodgers while ringing up saves in the first two games of the new season.

Hershiser accelerated that inevitability with two throwing errors, one on a botched pickoff play in the first inning, the other on a bunt in the fourth. He then was unable to survive one last flawed inning--the seventh, when left fielder Gibson dropped Chris Sabo's fly ball for a two-base error, catcher Mike Scioscia missed an outside pitch for a passed ball, and Eric Davis delivered Sabo with a sacrifice fly for what proved to be the deciding run.

The 20,964 fans who sat in the Cincinnati chill may have come expecting perfection--not only from Hershiser, but also from his mound opponent, Tom Browning, the Reds' left-hander who set down all 27 batters he faced the last time he pitched against the Dodgers. Instead, they saw a game decided by the caprices--walks, errors, bad hops and good--that normally govern a pitcher's life but somehow spared Hershiser for two magical months.

"A very strange game," Hershiser said afterward. "So many different things happened, and they all happened in one game."

Hershiser didn't need to consult Red Manager Pete Rose to know that the odds of prolonging his streak were not in his favor.

"You have to be ready for the moment," Hershiser said, alluding to the streak that in his mind ended during the playoffs last season. "And you have to have the ability to go through with it. But with the probabilities of baseball, you can only go so far.

"Don (Drysdale) told me that you don't realize what you've done until after you retire. That's when you think about how easy it is to score a run, and what a feat (the streak) was."

During the streak, Hershiser said, Barry Larkin's leadoff groundball would have been hit directly at Dodger shortstop Alfredo Griffin. "Instead, he hit a chopper that went over my head into center field," Hershiser said.

When Hershiser tried to pick Larkin off first base, his throw hit the Red player near the armpit as he dived back into the bag, giving Larkin free passage to second base. Hershiser struck out the next two batters, Chris Sabo and Eric Davis, then walked Kal Daniels on four pitches--a prudent decision, inasmuch as Daniels came into the game with a .500 average and four home runs off Hershiser.

"I didn't have to read that," Hershiser said. "I knew that."

He knew little, however, about Benzinger, the first baseman the Reds acquired from the Boston Red Sox last winter in a trade for Nick Esasky. So little, in fact, that Hershiser referred to Benzinger by the wrong first name, Tom instead of Todd. By any name, Benzinger's hard grounder through the right side was a base hit, Larkin crossed the plate easily and the crowd rose to give the newcomer a standing ovation.

"Oh, that'll be headlines tomorrow: 'Hershiser didn't even know the name of the guy who got the RBI to break his streak,' " the pitcher said with a grin.

For the first time since his 2-1 loss to the New York Mets last Aug. 24, Hershiser found himself behind in a game, a heartening development for Browning.

"After we scored the run, I was really pumped up," he said. "I reared back and tried to throw the ball past guys."

Instead, Browning found himself throwing the ball anywhere but over the plate, walking three batters, including Willie Randolph with the bases loaded, for the Dodgers' first run in the second. It could have gotten even uglier for Browning, but left fielder Daniels made a diving catch of Griffin's bid for extra bases to end the inning.

Singles by Davis, Benzinger and Paul O'Neill in the third made it 2-1. In the fourth, after Ron Oester's leadoff double, Hershiser botched Browning's bunt, first looking to third, then throwing wildly past Randolph at first, allowing Oester to score, making it 3-1.

"I didn't get my feet under me," Hershiser said, "and my throw tailed up the line.

In the fifth, Hershiser, who singled off Sabo's glove in his first at-bat, beat out a bunt and eventually scored on Gibson's sacrifice fly.

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