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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS

It's Hershiser's Favorite Time of Year

Baseball: Cleveland pitcher, 8-1 in the postseason, has a big burden to carry in Game 1 against Yankees tonight, but he doesn't really mind.

September 30, 1997|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Consider David Cone's shoulder. He doesn't know how it will feel or what to expect from it when he starts for the New York Yankees tonight in Game 1 of an American League division series with the Cleveland Indians.

Then consider what Orel Hershiser has to shoulder when he starts for the Indians.

The 38-year-old former Dodger knows that his Central Division champions have the distinct disadvantage of playing the first two games of a best-of-five series in the home park of the wild-card Yankees. He knows that the Indians lost to the wild-card Baltimore Orioles in a similar format last year. He knows that if he can't get the Indians a victory tonight, the responsibility for getting them even in the madcap setting of Yankee Stadium will fall on Game 2 starter Jaret Wright, a 21-year-old rookie.

Hershiser has a fabulous 8-1 record in postseason play, but is this a little more pressure than usual?

"Not at all," he said. "The only game I can win is tomorrow's.

"I can't worry about the format or who's pitching Game 2. Tommy Lasorda taught me that the only important thing was the W or L of that night.

"If he had to use his entire bench and every pitcher, he'd do it, and worry about tomorrow when it came."

Did it usually work?

"Well, he's in the Hall of Fame," Hershiser said.

He can't do anything more than he can do, which has been good enough in the playoffs and generally good enough overall.

Hershiser is 45-21 in three seasons with the Indians, 14-6 this year when he was taken off the disabled list for a lower back strain on Aug. 13 and won five of his last six decisions.

In his final start last Thursday, he went six strong innings against the Yankees without a decision, giving up two runs and six hits.

"I'm going to pitch exactly the same way tomorrow that I pitched in that game," he said with tongue in cheek, a control pitcher who seldom works a hitter the same way twice. "I want the Yankees to know that."

He added that he is "throwing as well as I have" at any point in his three seasons with the Indians, and of that he was serious.

Of his postseason success, Hershiser said, "I feel blessed. I've been able to perform in the spotlight. How some players perform in the postseason can make or break their career, but I don't look on it as the postseason. I look on it as an extension of the regular season. I try not to over-think. I don't read the scouting report a second time. In the regular season, you look for ways to get excited pitching on a Tuesday night in Milwaukee. I won't have to fake being psyched tomorrow, but my preparation won't be any different."

Cone (12-6), will go to the bullpen to warm up unsure of what will follow. He sat out a month because of shoulder tendinitis and has made two starts of five innings each since leaving the disabled list Sept. 20.

He threw Saturday with some tightness but no pain.

Five innings? Seven innings? Who knows?

"I'm taking it pitch by pitch, inning by inning," he said. "All I can do is the best I can with what I have."

Said Cleveland Manager Mike Hargrove, "I don't put any stock in the fact that he missed a month. They wouldn't be pitching him if he wasn't 100%. I expect him to be at his best."

At their best, Cone and Hershiser are warriors, bulldogs, as Lasorda called Hershiser.

"He's one of the best big-game pitchers of our generation," Cone said of Hershiser.

"The ultimate gamer," Hershiser said of Cone. "He's in his prime and I'm in the twilight, but I still have teeth, and we'll go at it."

One other thing: Yankee relief pitcher Jeff Nelson recently said that the Yankees preferred playing the Indians to the Seattle Mariners, which became bulletin-board material in Cleveland.

Asked about it, Hershiser said, "If Nelson's happy with this, so are we. We didn't want to play the Mariners, either. Who wants to face Randy Johnson twice in a five-game series. Those are guaranteed defeats."

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