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Inside Hershiser's scoreless streak

Friday, Aug. 30, marks the 25th anniversary of the beginning of Orel Hershiser's Major League record-setting 59-consecutive-innings scoreless streak.

To commemorate that remarkable streak, we go inside the numbers and get the thoughts of those who were there when it happened.

LEGENDARY COMPANY

The major league record for longest scoreless streak had been 58 innings.

The previous record was established by Don Drysdale of the Dodgers in 1968.

Drysdale broke a 55-year-old record, 55 2/3 innings, set by Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators in 1913.

NAME-CHANGER

Early in Hershiser's career, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda had told Hershiser that his approach was too negative. "I don't like your name," Lasorda said. "From now on, I'm going to call you 'Bulldog.' You're going to act like a bulldog and pitch like a bulldog."

"I changed his life," Lasorda said. "When [Braves outfielder] Dale Murphy comes up, he's saying, 'I can't wait to face a guy whose name is Orel.' But now he's going to say, 'He must be a tough pitcher to have a name like Bulldog.'"

EARLY INDICATIONS

Hershiser had a scoreless streak of 33 2/3 innings in his rookie season of 1984.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that over the past 50 years, only two other pitchers had multiple streaks of at least 33 2/3 scoreless innings: Gaylord Perry (40 innings in 1967 and 39 innings in 1970) and Luis Tiant (41 innings in 1968 and 40 innings in 1972).

"I got stronger," Hershiser said. "The Dodgers taught me how to get my leverage up and added 4 mph to my fastball, so I was throwing 91. I think I threw maybe four pitches in my life that were 94 mph. I was more about trying to get movement on my pitches than velocity.

"That streak was when I really started to feel like I belonged in the big leagues. Early on in your career, it's about building confidence and learning how to repeat success."

TO START, A FINISH

The streak began on Aug. 30, 1988 (nearly five years to the day after Hershiser's major league debut on Sept. 1, 1983), when Hershiser closed out a 4-2 victory with four scoreless innings.

SETTING A TONE

The first shutout in the streak was a 3-0 win over the Atlanta Braves on Sept. 5, 1988.

Dale Murphy, a two-time National League MVP, had snapped Hershiser's 33 2/3 inning scoreless streak in 1984 with a home run. On this day, Hershiser struck him out four times. It was the only instance in Murphy's 2,180-game career in which he struck out four times in a game against the same pitcher.

"He really understood what he needed to do against certain hitters," remembered former Dodgers catcher (and current Angels manager) Mike Scioscia. "I don't know if there's someone who could do what Orel did. If he ... made 10 pitches out of [his] location, that was a lot. He was flat-out nailing every pitch."

FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING

On Sept. 10, Hershiser beat the Cincinnati Reds 5-0 for his 20th victory of the season.

Three times in that game the Reds had a man on third base with a potent hitter at the plate, but Hershiser got Eric Davis to strike out, Ken Griffey Sr. to fly out and Barry Larkin to strike out to thwart scoring opportunities.

"Orel had a pattern that when he got two strikes on you, he'd throw you a ball and get you to swing," Larkin said. "Every pitch darted right off the plate. He missed a lot of barrels of bats. It was remarkable how pinpoint he was.

"Guys would say to move up in the box, or back in the box. They'd try a lot of things."

"There were very few balls hit out of the infield against him," Dodgers infielder Dave Anderson said. "Most of the ground balls were easy ground balls. Nobody was squaring up on his pitches."

Opponents went 0-for-31 with runners in scoring position and 0-for-9 with runners on third base over the 59 innings of Hershiser's scoreless streak.

"I caught 16 pitchers who won the Cy Young Award and I never caught anyone who pitched like him that year," said Dodgers backup catcher Rick Dempsey. "We knew when he was pitching that the game was over."

FAMILIAR FOES

Hershiser beat the Braves again 1-0 on Sept. 14, extending both his innings streak and a personal winning streak against the Braves. He would eventually win 12 consecutive games over the Braves, the longest streak in baseball's live ball era (since 1920).

ONE AND DONE

Hershiser followed his 1-0 win over Atlanta with a 1-0 win over the Astros on Sept. 19.

It turned out to be the last of three 1-0 shutouts in his career.

"There was never a time early in the streak where I considered it a streak," Hershiser said. "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."

CLOSE CALL

In Hershiser's next start against the Giants, San Francisco outfielder Brett Butler was called out for interference sliding into Dodgers shortstop Alfredo Griffin while breaking up a double play.

Had the call not been made, a run would have scored, ending the streak at 42 innings.

"It was a routine grounder, a soft grounder, and I said, 'I'm going to be able to take him out easily and we'll score,'" Butler said. "You always want to be the one who breaks up something whether it's a no-hitter or scoreless streak.

"I slid into second and I could touch the bag ... and Bob Engel called me out. I said, 'Really?!' He said, 'You went out of your way to get him.' I said, 'But I could still touch the bag.' He said, 'No, no, no, you couldn't.'"

"Butler slid at the base and hit me and made me make a bad throw," Griffin said. "But the umpire made the right call. It made me feel better because it would have crushed me. Everyone looked at it again on TV and it was the right call."

During Drysdale's 1968 streak, Giants catcher Dick Dietz was denied a hit-by-pitch with the bases loaded because he was ruled to have failed to have attempted to get out of the way of the pitch. Drysdale went on to retire Dietz to extend the streak.

"I remember running off the field yelling, 'Dick Dietz revisited! Dick Dietz revisited!'" Hershiser said. "I think Tommy Lasorda was the only one in the dugout who knew what I meant."

Hershiser shut the Giants out, continuing the streak.

DOWN TO THE WIRE

With the streak standing at 49 innings on Sept. 28, 1988, Hershiser made his last start of the season in San Diego, against Padres starter Andy Hawkins.

Hershiser pitched nine scoreless innings to tie Drysdale's mark.

But the Dodgers hadn't scored either and the game went to the 10th inning.

Hershiser held the Padres scoreless in the 10th to set a new record.

"Orel didn't want to go out there for the 10th inning," Lasorda said. "I said to him, 'You get your ass out there and break the record.'"

There have been five games since 1920 in which each starting pitcher went at least 10 innings, allowing no runs and four hits or fewer. The Hershiser-Andy Hawkins pitcher's duel in the record-breaking game is the most recent one.

"The way he ended he was on one of those rolls where he did everything right," Hawkins said. "He was confident. He had great stuff. The ball in his hand had great action. It was a great run. I wanted to match him. Of course I did. But I was quite a bit off from [59 innings]."

Drysdale was there to see it. He was a Dodgers broadcaster during the streak and watched the game from the team's dugout.

"I thought Don Drysdale did one of the classiest jobs at handling it," Hershiser said. "He kept his distance. We were closer when the streak wasn't going on. He pulled himself back so as not to put any pressure on me."

DOMINANT, BUT NOT QUITE COMPLETE

The 10-inning outing against the Padres wasn't enough to continue a run of eight straight complete games for Hershiser. The Dodgers eventually lost the game 2-1 in 16 innings.

"Sandy Koufax said that the way to throw a complete game was to get out who you can get and don't pitch around people," Hershiser said. "Go and get the No. 8 hitter out instead of walking him. Don't give up an easy out because the pitcher is on deck. If you walk him, that might mean you face the No. 3 or 4 hitter again. That helped because there were times when I wouldn't face the 3-4 hitter in a big jam because the lineup didn't turn over."

HEAVY WORKLOAD

If you combine Hershiser's regular-season and postseason workload he threw 309 2/3 innings in 1988.

No one has matched that total in the 25 years since.

SUMMING IT UP

Hershiser's stats during the streak:

59 IP, 0 R, 31 H, 38 K, 10 BB, 3 extra-base hits, 700 pitches

Drysdale's stats during his streak:

58 IP, 0 R 28 H, 45 K, 10 BB, 3 extra-base hits

"The next morning (after the Padres game), my phone rang and it was a sleepy-sounding Drysdale calling from California with a question for me: 'Which record do I still own?'" said Steve Hirdt, president of the Elias Sports Bureau.

The answer to that: Drysdale still holds the record for most consecutive shutouts, with six.

TAKING IT TO ANOTHER LEVEL

Hershiser pitched eight scoreless innings against the Mets in Game 1 of the 1988 NLCS.

That gave him 67 straight shutout innings before he yielded two runs in the ninth inning in a game the Dodgers went on to lose 3-2.

Undaunted, Hershiser started another streak in his final inning in Game 3 of the NLCS, this one lasting 21 1/3 innings before it was broken in the clinching Game 5 of the World Series. "The innings I pitched in the playoffs have more value, against a much tougher opponent," Hershiser said. "If you combine regular season and playoffs, I gave up seven runs in 101 2/3 innings, which to me is even more impressive than the 59 scoreless."

SHARING THE WEALTH

There was another streak running concurrently with Hershiser's.

Dodgers closer Jay Howell finished the 1988 season with 18 consecutive scoreless innings. In fact, in that stretch, Howell allowed only three hits and did not allow a hit in the month of September.

"That was a very modest streak," Howell said. "But I think everyone elevated their game that year, relievers like Brian Holton and Tim Crews, and the starters, like Tim Belcher and Tim Leary.

"When Orel spoke, people listened. We would go to him all the time with mechanical breakdowns. I can't get my breaking ball over, I'm missing my sinker. He would find something to help you out. Nine times out of 10, he was right on. He was not selfish. He was a great teammate."

"Orel showed me a foolproof way to grip the sinker, so that I didn't ever leave it up," Leary said. "One of the rules we had was: don't miss high. Make your mistakes below the knees. Orel went through his whole streak without ever making a mistake above the knees."

MAGICAL YEAR

Hershiser threw seven shutouts in his last 11 starts in 1988.

He threw just six shutouts in the remaining 319 starts of his career.

ALL GOOD THINGS . . .

The scoreless streak was broken on an RBI hit by Reds first baseman Todd Benzinger in the first inning of Hershiser's first start in 1989.

"After he got the hit, the story the next day was Benzinger saying something like, 'I don't understand what's the big deal about Hershiser. He's just another right-handed pitcher.' We [later] became teammates and I didn't talk to him very much," Hershiser said with a laugh.

WHAT'S IN A NUMBER

Six Dodgers have worn No. 55 since Hershiser retired in 2000.

"I grew up in L.A. and he was one of my favorite Dodgers," said current No. 55, Skip Schumaker. "When I was 5, I was in a restaurant with my parents, Orel and Tommy and some of the Dodgers were eating there. We waited until he finished and I got his autograph and a picture. Orel and Tommy both signed my glove for me, 'To a future Dodger . . . '

"My parents were locked in on his starts every time he pitched. I was only 8 in 1988, but it was one of the most dominant things I've ever seen. I was given No. 55 when I came up to the big leagues. By coincidence, that happened to be Orel's number and I stuck with it."

HISTORY MAY NOT REPEAT ITSELF

The second-longest scoreless streak in 1988 was 34 innings by Mark Langston of the Seattle Mariners.

The longest scoreless streak since Hershiser's has been 42 innings by Brandon Webb for the 2007 Arizona Diamondbacks.

Only two other starters have thrown 39 or more consecutive scoreless innings since 1988 -- Greg Maddux for the 2000 Braves (39 1/3 innings) and Kenny Rogers (39 innings) for the 1995 Texas Rangers.

"That's dominance," said current Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. "Any time you don't give up a run -- I mean, that's your goal every inning -- and any time you succeed in that 59 straight times, that's probably the toughest stat as a pitcher to break ever, I would think. You can put a streak together of two or three good games, but that's almost six-and-a-half games right there. That's pretty unbelievable."

According to ESPN sabermetrician Dan Szymborski, in 2013, teams score in about 26.4 percent of innings, which means that a league-average pitcher has approximately a 1-in-71 million chance of throwing 59 consecutive scoreless innings.

"The chances of someone doing it are 100 percent," Hershiser said. "Because I did it!"

Elias notes that Hershiser is one of 111 pitchers to win 200 games, one of 70 to strike out 2,000 batters, one of 86 to be on the mound for the final out of a World Series, as Hershiser was at the conclusion of that season. But the scoreless streak remains one of a kind, 25 years later.

"I want someone to enjoy baseball as much as I did in that streak, to have that blessing in life and have that much fun," Hershiser said.

Matt Ehalt, Todd Wills, Karlo Sy Su and Mark Saxon contributed reporting to this story.

Mark Simon helps oversee the ESPN Stats & Information blog. You can follow him on Twitter at @msimonespn