Twenty-six years ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series, their most recent championship to date. They went into the Series as underdogs to the league's winningest team that year, the Oakland Athletics, upsetting the favorites in five games. While the indelible memory that everybody has of that World Series is of Kirk Gibson painfully running the bases and pumping his arm after his walk-off homer, the Dodgers' most dangerous weapon was their ace, Orel Hershiser.
In Hershiser, the Dodgers had arguably the best pitcher in the National League, one who set the record of 59 consecutive scoreless innings that stands to this day. (The streak was actually 67 innings if you count the postseason, which MLB doesn't).
This season looks oddly familiar. The A's have won the most games in baseball and currently lead the AL in both runs scored and ERA. And the Dodgers have the most dangerous pitcher in the National League, one who is currently working on a scoreless innings streak of his own. (Even Kirk Gibson's kinda still limping, with the team he's managing painfully making its way to the fewest wins in baseball at the halfway point.)
The prognosis was not always this good. After the season opener in Sydney, Australia, a sore back kept Clayton Kershaw from making his 2014 Western Hemisphere debut until May. At their lowest point of the pennant race, the Dodgers were 9˝ games behind the San Francisco Giants, which is typically an insurmountable lead, even in June. As I noted in a now notorious piece, it would rank as the biggest mid-June lead blown in baseball history.
Three weeks later, everything's coming up Dodger Blue. Not only did the Giants blow that lead, they also did it in an impressive manner, folding so quickly that the Giants should consider offering an origami class this offseason. It took two months for the 1978 Red Sox to lose their big June lead. The 1969 Cubs needed 25 days for their biggest lead to evaporate and the team that caught them, the Mets, got the "Miracle" appellation attached to their name.
The Giants took a mere 21 games to go from 9˝ up to tied, and while there were many reasons, one of the biggest was Kershaw channeling his inner Hershiser.
A month for the ages
This past June was the best calendar month of Kershaw's career, as he went 6-0 with a 0.82 ERA. Kershaw's 61-to-4 K-BB ratio looks like a typo; the only pitcher in baseball history to strike out more in a calendar month and walk fewer was Curt Schilling (62 strikeouts to 2 walks) in May 2002. Even Kershaw's June no-hitter was amazing for a no-hitter, as he struck out 15 batters (and walked none) to put up the second-best game score since 1914, beaten only by Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout game.