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Hershiser Remains Master of Astros : He Extends Scoreless Streak Against Houston to 33 2/3 Innings

June 15, 1989|ROSS NEWHAN | Times Staff Writer

When last seen by the Houston Astros, Orel Hershiser pitched seven shutout innings of relief in that 22-inning marathon at the Astrodome.

Hershiser retired the last 13 batters in order in that game.

Eleven days and a 4-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds later, he re-discovered that groove and pitched the Dodgers to a 3-0 victory Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium.

Hershiser retired the first nine Astros in order, did not give up a hit until there was one out in the fifth and permitted only six in all as he improved to 8-5 and lowered his earned-run average to 2.38.

There was no real surprise to it. Hershiser has a 13-5 career record against the Astros and has not given up an earned run in his last 33 2/3 innings against them, dating to Aug. 5.

In the last two years he is 6-1 with three shutouts and a 1.13 ERA against Houston.

Hershiser could offer no explanation for his mastery of the Astros except that "I've pitched well against them and gotten breaks behind me. I needed breaks when I pitched those 59 straight scoreless innings (at the end of last season) as well."

Bob Knepper, the losing pitcher Wednesday night, offered another reason for Hershiser's dominance.

"He's probably the best right-hander in the National League," Knepper said.

The victory was the fourth in a row for the fourth-place Dodgers, who remained 5 1/2 games behind the San Francisco Giants, who hold a one-game lead over the Astros in the National League West.

A crowd of 30,430 saw Hershiser nurse a 1-0 lead into the seventh, when Kirk Gibson, hitless in three previous at-bats against the left-handed Knepper, ripped a two-run homer halfway up the right-field pavilion above the 360-foot mark.

Gibson's seventh homer--he has scored six runs in four games as the leadoff hitter--provided Hershiser with breathing room as he pitched his third shutout and third complete game in 13 starts.

He walked three and struck out three and extended his string of Astros retired in order to 22 before Billy Hatcher walked to open the fourth. Greg Gross then grounded into a double play, Bill Doran flied out and Glenn Davis struck out to open the fifth.

Hershiser, at that point, had faced 26 Astros without giving up a hit when Terry Puhl sliced a double down the left-field line.

Puhl was stranded as Ken Caminiti popped up and Rafael Ramirez grounded out, setting the pattern as Hershiser defused a series of late threats. The Astros grounded into three double plays and Hershiser benefited from a fourth in which left fielder Gibson's oft-criticized arm was involved.

The Astros had two on with no outs in the sixth when Hatcher flied out to Gibson in medium left. Biggio attempted to take advantage of the suspect arm and was out on a perfect throw to third.

The Astros had arrived Tuesday night with a 10-game winning streak on the road and a streak of six consecutive victories overall. They have been cooled, however, by a pitching staff that leads the major leagues with an ERA of 2.67.

Houston had not been shut out in its last 71 games and was the only team in the majors not to have been shut out this year before Hershiser re-established his dominance.

He also contributed to all three runs against Knepper (3-7).

The first run came in the fifth, which John Shelby opened with a single. It was only Shelby's 32nd hit during a season in which he is batting .164 and has struck out 50 times, including three times Wednesday night.

Shelby stole second, Dave Anderson walked, Hershiser bunted safely to load the bases and Gibson grounded into a force play to make the score 1-0.

Hershiser then walked to open the seventh, and Gibson followed with his towering home run, his second in the last two games.

Of this one, he said: "That's as far as I can hit one."

Of his move to the leadoff role, Gibson said: "It's not really that big of an adjustment. As you can see from tonight, I only actually hit leadoff once. But I am taking more pitches, seeing the ball better and my confidence has improved. The key is for me to get on."

Hershiser said he was motivated by the two home runs he gave up in the loss to the Reds.

"I was determined that if I made mistakes tonight, (the pitches) would be down instead of up," he said.

The Dodgers have turned 66 double plays in 63 games, and Hershiser praised Willie Randolph, the middle man in three of the four Wednesday night: "He's the best second baseman I've seen."

Added third baseman Jeff Hamilton: "I know I have a lot more time to get set now because Willie gets rid of the ball so quickly."

The four consecutive victories and the two in a row over Houston seem to have revitalized the Dodgers.

"We're not in the position we want to be, but we're not in a position to panic either," said Gibson.

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