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Friday, August 30, 2013
Who could break Hershiser's record?

By David Schoenfield

On this date 25 years ago, Orel Hershiser began his streak of 59 consecutive scoreless innings pitched, breaking the mark of 58 that Don Drysdale had set in 1968.

Mark Simon has a great look back at Hershiser's amazing stretch -- which included two 1-0 shutouts and 10 scoreless innings in his final start to break the record.

"There was never a time early in the streak where I considered it a streak," Hershiser told Simon. "We were in a pennant race and just trying to win ballgames.

"One of the things that helped me get the streak was that the offense wasn't scoring many runs. When your team is winning big, you trade outs for runs a lot, but early in the streak, I couldn't, because not giving up runs was part of winning games."

The neat thing about Hershiser's record is that, like Joe DiMaggio's hit streak, it is seemingly breakable, not a record that will simply stand the test of time because the game has changed, like Cy Young's 511 victories or Jack Taylor's 185 consecutive complete games.

Since Hershiser, Arizona's Brandon Webb has the longest scoreless streak at 42 innings. Mark reports that Dan Szymborski estimates a league-average pitcher has a 1-in-71-million chance of breaking Hershiser's record. Of course, it will take a better-than-league-average pitcher to do it.

Besides his talent on the mound, Hershiser had favorable conditions in 1988, as it was a low-scoring season and he pitched his home games in Dodger Stadium, a pretty good pitcher's park. National League teams averaged 3.88 runs per game (tied with 1992 as the lowest since 1968, and 0.66 home runs per game, compared to 0.90 in 2013). That's the biggest obstacle now -- more home runs. One mistake, and the streak is over.

So who could break Hershiser's record? Certainly Clayton Kershaw would be the obvious choice. He's dominant, he pitches in Dodger Stadium and he doesn't give up many home runs (just nine this season). He's had eight scoreless starts so far in 2013, so all he needs to do is string those together.

Kershaw, however, wouldn't be my top choice to surpass Hershiser. My guy would be Braves reliever Craig Kimbrel, who has allowed just six runs in 55 2/3 innings a year after allowing seven in 62.2. He's allowed one run in his past 42 1/3 innings.

Of course, a reliever doing it isn't quite the same as a starter. And considering Kimbrel barely tops 59 innings in a season, he'd have to go essentially an entire season without allowing a run (or carry it over between seasons, which creates another argument). Still, as unhittable as Kimbrel is -- batters are hitting .161 against him -- he's the guy who could do it.