LOS ANGELES — He was collecting World Series moments the way a kid collects bubble gum cards. Got one of those. Got one of these. Got one of those. “Geez, this guy’s pitching a shutout, he’s got three hits, he’s knocked in a run,” you would say, watching Orel Hershiser accomplish it all during the Dodgers’ 6-0 victory in Game 2 of the World Series.
“Wait!” Hershiser would seem to answer from the field. “I haven’t slid into third yet.”
And he would slide into third. What a performance! They should have hung a sign outside Dodger Stadium. “Appearing Tonight: Orel — A One-Man Show in Nine Acts.” He hits. He scores. He knocks men in. All that when he wasn’t busy striking out Oakland muscle man Jose Canseco, or getting Mark McGwire to ground into double plays. Strikeouts? A shutout?
“Geez, I’m getting hungry,” you would say.
“Sit still, I’ll get you a hot dog,” he would answer. Why not? Was there anything else he didn’t do? This was like decathlon night for No. 55. Pitching in his very first World Series game, he seemed to want to try everything. He even saw his mother and father throw out the first ball.
How fitting. Sunday is family night on television, right? So instead of grizzled and growling Kirk Gibson — a face just made for Saturday night heroism — we had good ol’ Orel.
Huck Finn as Superman.
“Do you enjoy doing all that — running and hitting as well as pitching?” someone asked, after the Dodgers grabbed a 2-0 lead in this series. “Oh, yeah!” he gushed. “That’s when the little boy in me comes out.”
When did it go away? Look at that face. How old is he? Nine? No matter. This is Orel’s year. A dream season. 23-8. Won the seventh game of the league championship. And remember, Hershiser is the pitcher who just a few weeks ago broke a scoreless innings record that ranked up there with Bob Beamon’s long jump.
And there he was, Sunday night, freshly scrubbed, big-eyed. A five o’clock shadow? I don’t know if he gets a five o’clock shadow. He may not get an 11 o’clock shadow. Let’s ask him.
“Orel . . .” you would say.
“Back in a minute,” he would answer, “I want to try and steal second base.
. . .”
Let the record show that on Sunday, Hershiser had two more hits than Gibson did the night before. He also allowed just three hits, no runs, pitched a complete game, and marched off the mound after striking out Dave Parker, tapping his glove as if checking to see if he’d forgotten anything.
“Let’s see,” you could hear him say, “I’m the first pitcher to throw shutouts in both the league championship and World Series. I got two doubles. Triples? I didn’t hit any triples?”
No. No triples. He did, however, score a run and record eight strikeouts, including Canseco, Dave Henderson, Carney Lansford and Don Baylor — just in case you thought he was pitching to lightweights. He struck out the side in the fourth.
What else? What else is there? He has pushed the supposedly mighty Athletics to the brink of desperation in this suddenly Dodger Blue World Series. Wasn’t Oakland the team loaded with muscle? Weren’t the A’s the team deep in pitching? Yet here was Storm Davis being relieved after 3 1/3 innings, having surrendered six runs. Fittingly, it was a double down the right field line by Hershiser that knocked Davis out for good. How many times does one pitcher’s hitting send another pitcher to the World Series showers?
“Got one of those, got one of these, got one of those. . . .” Got one of those victories as well. And how nice. Because Hershiser is the guy you bring your kids to meet at the ballpark. This is the dying breed of baseball player, the polite, well-mannered, even humble superstar.
Did we say humble?
“Why were you talking to the umpires before the game?” a reporter asked.
“Oh, because of this.” He pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. “It’s a list of the opposing hitters’ tendencies. I keep it in my back pocket. I wanted to show it to the umpires so they wouldn’t think I was reaching for something illegal out there.”
We said humble.
Hershiser has admitted being embarrassed at breaking Don Drysdale’s 58-inning scoreless streak. “He was a much better pitcher than I am,” Orel said. And Sunday night, when he needed a warm-up jacket to wear while on the base paths, Hershiser (whom his teammates nicknamed “Bulldog”) sent not for his own but for that of trainer Charlie Strasser. He wanted to give Strasser a little publicity.
It worked. They talked about Strasser on TV. When else does a trainer get mentioned on TV?
Such is the way of this lanky 30-year-old, who still looks as if he should be cleaning out his locker at Cherry Hill East High in New Jersey. His uniform was dirty from the slide. His face was the picture of concentration. “O-REL! O-REL! O-REL!” they yelled as he delivered that final pitch to Parker — strike three! — and greeted the mob of his happy teammates in equally heroic (but much calmer) fashion than Gibson had the night before.
Huck Finns wins. His magic season continues. He is a shoo-in for the Cy Young, he was already the MVP of the championship series, and the rate this is going, he could be on the mound for the clinching game of this fall classic. Wouldn’t that be fitting? He pitches, he hits, he knocks ’em in. And the World Series satchel is full of memories this morning. Got one of those. Got one of these. Got one of those. “Boy,” you would say, as you walked to your car in the Dodger Stadium parking lot, “that guy can really do it all, can’t he?”
“Have a nice trip home,” he would say, opening your door.