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Dodgers: Orel Hershiser’s 1988 Season, A Retrospective

Dodgers

In 1988 Orel Hershiser was 29 years old. The 1987 Dodgers finished 73-89, fourth in the National League West, and they were picked to finish 4th for the 1988 season. They signed Mike Davis. They also signed Kirk Gibson that offseason, who would lead the clubhouse and the offense that year. He also did something pretty spectacular in the World Series, but I am racking my brain and can’t seem to remember what it was. Anyway…

 

KirkWalksOff

 

Kirk Gibson led the team with 25 home runs, Mike Marshall had 20, John Shelby a robust 10, and nobody else on the team broke double digits in that category. If it seems like you’re seeing a pattern here–just wait until you realize Kirk Gibson did not even play in the World Series (save for that one plate appearance I referred to earlier, that I can’t remember.) So to say that the Dodgers in 1988 were going to succeed on the strength of their pitching is to understate things.

Regular Season

Orel Hershiser began the 88′ campaign like a true ace. He threw a complete game shutout in his first start–en route to winning his first 6 starts, with a 1.74 ERA. By June 4th he was 7-3 with an impressive 2.46 ERA. The Dodgers ended that day with a 30-21 record.

He pitched well into the summer and pitched complete games on August 19th, 24th, and 30th. He allowed only 4 runs in those 27 innings and ended that day with a 2.84 ERA and an 18-8 record. The Dodgers ended that day with a 77-54 record. Then came the 59 straight scoreless innings.

The Streak

All starts in September.

  • 5th: 9IP, 4H, 8K, final result LA: 3, ATL: 0
  • 10th: 9IP, 7H, 8K, final result LA:5, CIN: 0
  • 14th: 9IP, 6H, 8K, final result LA:1, ATL: 0
  • 19th: 9IP, 4H, 5K, finals result LA:1, HOU: 0
  • 23rd: 9IP 5H, 2K, final result LA:3, SFG:
  • 28th: 10IP, 4H, 3K, final result SDP:2, LA: 1

That’s right. He pitched 10 innings in a losing effort on his last start of the season. 59 straight scoreless innings, and in addition, the last one was in the 10th inning of a start against San Diego. Pitching into the 10th inning is not something we see very often at all anymore. Wait. I’m getting an angry call from Rich Hill–please hold. Ending the year hot is definitely something to aspire to. Ending the year this untouchable is momentum elemental.

59 straight scoreless innings is a record that will probably not be touched. Joe DiMaggio’s 56 consecutive game hitting streak is well known in the sports ether, but the 59 straight scoreless innings often gets overlooked. It can be argued that it is equally as impressive as DiMaggio’s hitting streak. Even now in the days of the Three True Outcomes dominating the box scores, most Dodgers Nation readers don’t see this record being broken.

NLCS

Rarely does the ‘David and Goliath’ comparison feature two Goliaths–but the New York Mets were an offensive powerhouse in 88′. In the regular season, the Mets had taken 10 of 11 against the Dodgers, outscoring them 49-18. In game 1, Hershiser AGAIN pitched into the 9th, with a 2-0 lead. The Dodgers ended up losing on a Gary Carter double. He pitched game 3 on three-days rest, allowing 3 runs in 7 innings. He hadn’t allowed that many runs in a start in over a month and a half. The Dodgers ended up losing this game as well, 8-4.

In game 4, the Dodgers mounted their own stunning comeback. Down 4-2 in the bottom of the 9th, Mike Scioscia hit a game-tying 2 run home run, stunning the Shea Faithful. Kirk Gibson hit a home-run in the 12th inning to give them the lead. With 2 outs in the bottom of the 12th, Tommy Lasorda called on Hershiser to get the last out–even though he had started the game before. Hershiser got Kevin McReynolds to fly out, giving Orel the save.

  • 8 innings in game 1
  • 6 innings on three days rest in game 2.
  • Recording a save the very next day in game 3

Orel’s usage was very high even by 1988 standards. That could arguably be considered cruel and unusual by today’s standards. Even still, the Dodgers then called on Orel Hershiser to deliver in game 7 against the Mets. Well, ‘David’ brought his best slingshot, and Hershiser pitched a complete game shutout against the Goliath Mets. He allowed only 5 hits and struck out 5. Hershiser was named the MVP of the NLCS and the Dodgers would, therefore, face the power-hitting Oakland A’s in the World Series.

World Series

At the risk of over-extending the metaphor, the 1988 Oakland A’s were a Goliath offensive team. They were lead by “the bash brothers,” MLB’s first 40/40 man Jose Canseco, and Mark McGwire, who at the time had only a year ago set the rookie home run record, with 49 dingers.

Before game 1 of the World Series even began, Bob Costas said: “…this lineup is probably one of the weakest ever to take the field for a World Series.” Costas even ribbed at Orel, saying, “This lineup is so weak, you should be in it as a hitter.” Tommy Lasorda would later sarcastically suggest that the World Series MVP should have been Bob Costas. This wound up being especially relevant in psyching up the Dodgers in the clubhouse.

The Dodgers won game 1 in dramatic fashion, in a walk-off home run from a man who could barely round the base paths.

Pitching on 3 days rest, Orel Hershiser pitched an absolute gem in game 2, another complete game shutout. He struck out 8 batters and allowed only 3 hits (3 singles all from Dave Parker.) Hershiser even drove in a run with a double, helping his cause. This gave the underdog Dodgers a commanding 2-0 lead.

Hershiser’s next start would be game 5, again on 3 days rest. The Dodgers were up 3-1 in the series, and their Cy Young did not disappoint. He pitched a complete game, allowing only 2 runs on 4 hits. He had 9 strikeouts. This capped off one of the most amazing playoff performances by a pitcher in major league history.

  • World Series: 18IP, 7H, 2ER, 17K (all done on 3 days rest)

 

Postscript

Orel Hershiser-1988

  • NLCS MVP
  • World Series MVP
  • Cy Young Award
  • Wins: 23-league leader
  • Innings Pitched: 267-league leader
  • Shutouts: 8-league leader
  • Complete Games: 15-league leader

No other pitcher in major league history has won the Cy Young Award, then the MVP in the LCS and World Series. Kirk Gibson’s walk off home run in game 1 (there’s the name I was searching for earlier) is typically rated in the top 2 greatest moments in baseball playoff history, therefore it’ll likely be what people, will always remember. That’s how it should be, but Hershiser’s 1988 season should also be immortalized forever in Dodger lore, and baseball lore.

Growing up, saying the name “Hershiser” was akin to invoking the name of a saint, or a legend like Hercules. For this Dodger fan, that name will always mean greatness.

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Written by AJ Gonzalez

AJ is a lifelong Dodgers fan who grew up in California. His whole family are also lifelong Dodgers fans. He lives in Tennessee with his wife, daughter, beagle, and strat.

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