An Orel Hershiser-Mike Scioscia tale
July, 4, 2011
By Buster Olney | ESPN.com
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Orel Hershiser walked into Mike Scioscia's office about four hours before the start of Sunday's game and it was like a 25th high school reunion, with the two immediately veering into storytelling mode, through laughs. It turns out that some memento of gratitude that Hershiser gave Scioscia apparently had the last name of the former catcher misspelled.
"You'd think that all the times that I chased balls back to the screen that I couldn't block -- and he'd see my name on the back of my jersey -- that he'd get that right," Scioscia said.
They shared so much in their years with the Dodgers, but never so much as in 1988. That was when Hershiser set the record for most consecutive scoreless innings, and when the Dodgers shocked the baseball world by beating two great teams -- first the Mets in the National League playoffs, and then the Oakland A's and their vaunted Bash Brothers.
But the story that Scioscia and Hershiser shared from that playoff run was actually about a scrap that the two of them had on the mound, during Game 7 of the Dodgers' clincher over the Mets. Hershiser was dominant again, and with two outs in the ninth inning and the Dodgers leading 6-0, Lee Mazzilli came to the plate for the Mets as a pinch-hitter. Scioscia called for a two-seam fastball -- Hershiser's signature pitch -- and Hershiser nodded, and threw. The pitch was a four-seam fastball, which hit Mazzilli.
Scioscia went to the mound. "What are you doing?" he asked.
But Hershiser didn't want to talk about that pitch. He had an idea for a play: What he suggested to Scioscia was that with the Mets down six runs and two outs in the ninth, Mazzilli was bound to take off for second base, on defensive indifference. Hershiser's plan was to work out of the wind-up, but then quickly deliver a fastball on a pitchout -- and Scioscia could try to throw out Mazzilli.
A trick play. With two outs in the ninth inning of the National League Championship Series.
Scioscia told him, in so many words, to shut up and to throw some sinkers, and Hershiser was annoyed. As the catcher ambled back to the plate, Hershiser turned to the infielder who happened to be standing on the mound listening in.
As Hershiser and Scioscia told the story on Sunday afternoon, both indicated that the infielder/eavesdropper was Tracy Woodson -- but this is how it goes with storytelling. Woodson didn't play in that game; more likely, the infielder was Jeff Hamilton.
No matter. Hershiser turned to the infielder and said of Scioscia, "Who died and made him captain?"
And both men laughed at the punch line. Three pitches later -- all sinkers -- they recalled, they finished off the Mets.
Part of why we love the game: baseball stories like this.
Scioscia's Angels rallied late on Sunday night. The shadows were really, really tough for the hitters on both teams for much of the game -- clearly, they were struggling to identify any kind of breaking ball -- and it seemed like the game was filled with check-swings and half-swings, right up until Russell Branyan's two-run monster shot in the bottom of the seventh inning. Ervin Santana had a strong outing; from ESPN Stats and Info, how he won:
A. Santana went to his out pitch, his slider, more often than in any start in the past three seasons. Fifty-one of his 110 pitches (46.8 percent) were sliders, and all eight strikeouts he registered on the night were with the pitch. Santana has 72 strikeouts with his slider this season, second only to Clayton Kershaw.
B. Santana's slider was at its most effective when he kept it down in the zone. Thirty-two of his 51 sliders were down in the zone or below it, and Dodgers hitters were 0-for-10 with seven strikeouts in at-bats ending with a low slider from Santana. Seventeen of Santana's 20 two-strike sliders were low.
• There is no perfect way to choose an All-Star team, no way to keep everybody happy. Even if Bruce Bochy had found a way to get Andrew McCutchen on the All-Star team, there still would have been fans clamoring for the addition of Tommy Hanson or Craig Kimbrel or Andre Ethier or Dillon Gee or Antonio Bastardo.
But I was surprised McCutchen was not part of the National League team, and that in one way or another, Paul Konerko was not part of the American League team. Konerko has been around long enough, he said, to understand how this kind of thing happens, Mark Gonzales writes. Carlos Quentin is campaigning for him.
No one could contain McCutchen on Sunday, when the Pirates enjoyed a lopsided victory. Note the NL Central standings: The Pirates are 43-41, and 1.5 games out of first place, and McCutchen has played a major role in this franchise's resurgence. Only two players are ahead of McCutchen in WAR, according to fangraphs.com: Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes.
• With help from teammate Justin Verlander, Alex Avila was voted onto the All-Star team. Joel Hanrahan did get the call for the All-Star Game.
On the day Gio Gonzalez was named to the All-Star team, he got a big treat from teammates, Susan Slusser writes. Within this Henry Schulman notebook, there is word that Kevin Correia will be an All-Star.
My favorite All-Star story this year is that of Ryan Vogelsong, who was released from the Phillies' organization last summer and wondered if he would ever pitch professionally again -- and now he's an All-Star, as Andrew Baggarly writes.
• Twenty-seven days remain until the trade deadline, and while some GMs and some other talent evaluators report an increasingly higher volume of trade talk between teams day by day -- and some of this will lead to trades -- a touch of resignation has set in for some participants. There is a feeling, for some, that there really aren't that many difference-making players available, and that some of those who could be difference-makers are so highly priced that they're almost not worth it.
It'll be interesting to see what the Padres get in return for Heath Bell, one of the few potential difference-makers on the market; my guess is, given the level of trade enthusiasm right now, that it won't be for as much as what people expect. We'll see.
• Sources indicated Sunday night that Derek Jeter will join the Yankees today in Cleveland, six hits shy of 3,000. Jeter had to wear a really interesting uniform on Sunday, as you can see from this picture that accompanies Mark Viera's story.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Tigers fired pitching coach Rick Knapp.
2. The Yankees optioned Ivan Nova to the minors.
Dings and dents
1. Jose Reyes' hamstring strain is just mild, Peter Botte writes.
2. Brandon McCarthy is ready to get back to work, after a stint on the disabled list.
3. Albert Pujols will not need a rehab assignment in the minors, says his manager.
1. The Tigers rallied late on Sunday.
2. The Mets rallied against Mariano Rivera.
3. Cliff Lee's remarkable streak came to an end. From Stats and Info, how it happened:
A. Lee threw a season-high 67 percent of his pitches in the strike zone, but at times, he may have caught too much of the zone. Just three of his 49 fastballs were down in the zone, tying his fewest in a start the past three seasons. Nine of the 10 hits Lee allowed, including all three homers, came on pitches at the belt or above.
B. The Blue Jays were aggressive early in the count against Lee. Hitters swung at the first pitch 15 times and 11 more on 0-1. No opponent has swung more often on those counts against Lee since August 2010. Six of the 10 hits Lee allowed, including two homers, came on either the first pitch or 0-1.
Lee gave up three home runs in the eighth inning against Toronto. The cumulative distance of those three homers was 1,266 feet. That's the largest cumulative distance of homers allowed in a single inning by a pitcher this season.
4. Mitch Talbot got knocked around, and the Reds managed to avoid a sweep.
5. The Cardinals fumbled away the last game in their series against the Rays, as Derrick Goold writes.
6. Josh Beckett was brilliant.
• The American League won interleague play for the eighth straight season, according to Elias (see table to the right).
• A West Point graduate who played in the Reds' farm system for four years is now serving in Iraq, writes Michael Schmidt.
Flying out early from L.A. this morning, so this will have to be a holiday version of the column. Filling in on Mike and Mike the next four days; I'll have columns Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Happy Fourth, everyone.
And today will be better than yesterday.