The Bulldog, Orel Hershiser was a workhorse for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1980s, three times eclipsing 250 innings. He captured the attention of the nation in 1988 when he chased Don Drsydale’s consecutive scoreless inning record. Eventually, Orel broke Drysdale’s record and set the new mark at 59 consecutive scoreless innings.
A 17th round pick by the Dodgers in 1979, Orel pitched predominantly out of the bullpen in the minor leagues. When the Dodgers called him up in ’83, it was as a fireman. In his rookie year of ’84, Orel split time between starting and relieving. He showed manager Tommy Lasorda that he could handle the rigors of starting by tying for the league lead in shutouts despite starting only 20 games.
Lasorda inserted him into the rotation full time in 1985 and Orel responded by leading the league with a .864 winning percentage. That year Orel won 19 games while fashioning a 2.03 ERA. The Dodgers won the NL West and took on the Cardinals in the NLCS. Orel won Game 2 but the Cardinals bounced back and took the series. In 1987, Orel led the league in innings pitched. Teaming with Bob Welch and Fernando Valenzuela, the trio gave the Dodgers three starters with at least 190 strikeouts. The ’87 season began a string of three straight years in which Hershiser reached 250 innings worked.
In Orel’s Cy Young winning season of 1988, he led the NL with eight shutouts, 267 innings pitched and tying for the lead in wins and complete games. The Dodgers were led by their bulldog into postseason play, withOrel sizzling through October. Hotter than the sands of the Kalahari, Hershiser blazed through the NLCS with a 1.09 ERA and carried his hot streak into the World Series, winning a pair of games on a 1.00 ERA for the World Champion Dodgers.
1989 was another good year for Orel but a poor one for support. Despite posting a 2.31 ERA, Bulldog led the NL in losses but also led the league in innings pitched. Cy Young Award voters weren’t fooled by Orel’s misleading record and handed him a share of the votes. But Lasorda taxed Orel – taking his bullpen out for too many after hours walks – and his arm gave out in 1990. He pitched just 25 innings in ’90 and 112 in 1991. The injury sapped Orel’s effectiveness and he he was rarely asked to complete games anymore. After a 6-6 season in 1994, the Dodgers gave up on Orel and let him test the free agent waters.
Signing with the Cleveland Indians in 1995, Orel revived his career under Chief Yahoo. He went 16-6 in his first year in Cleveland helping the Indians make the postseason. Teaming with Dennis Martinez to give the Indians a fine greybeard tandem, Orel worked like the bulldog of old in October. Hershiser had a perfect 0.00 ERA in the Divisional Series and won two games on a nifty 1.29 ERA in the ALCS. The Indians squared off with the Braves in the World Series and Orel split his decisions on a fine 2.57 ERA. The Braves were victorious.
Winning 15 games in 1996, Hershiser again led the Indians into October but they fell in the Division Series to Baltimore. Still productive as a 38 year old in ’97, Bulldog posted a .700 winning percentage during the regular season. The Indians made their third straight postseason with Orel and he had a perfect 0.00 ERA in the ALCS against the Orioles. He made his final World Series but the Marlins had his number and the Indians fell.
Returning to California in 1998, Orel signed a free agent contract with the Giants. He won eleven games and posted his ninth and final 200 inning campaign. He caught on with the Mets in 1999 and won 13 games. In five postseason innings, Orel didn’t surrender a single run. It was his last fine season. After a horrendous start to the 2000 season with Los Angeles, the 41 year old bulldog felt that he had chewed his last bone in the Majors and discarded the leash.
W 204/L 150/PCT .576/G 510/CG 68/IP 3,130/H 2,939/BB 1,007/SO 2,014/SHO 25/ERA 3.48