The Clark Kent of pitching turns out to be L.A. Dodgers' Superman. UNASSUMING OREL
Oakland, Calif. — MOST of Orel Hershiser is his Adam's apple. While he isn't thin, exactly, he could walk by you in street clothes and you wouldn't give him a first look. You wouldn't know that his average-looking pitching arm has more steel in it than a new car. Only his large hands might give him away. They give the Los Angeles Dodgers' hero an advantage over other pitchers - one that he put to work Sunday with a three-hit, 6-0 shutout of the Oakland A's that put his team up 2-0 in the World Series.
Hershiser is proof positive that a guy who doesn't physically resemble a 23-game winner can be very successful throwing strikes. Most of his hard pitches blink the radar speed-measuring gun at more than 90 miles an hour. The Oakland A's, whose home run hitters he toyed with in Game 2 of the series, are still trying to figure him out.
The elements of his success are these: He has a sinkerball that brings up oil, a disposition so unshakable you could balance eggs on it, and a body that is all whipcord and whalebone. The truth is, Hershiser usually has so much good stuff when he goes out to pitch, it's just another routine day at the office.
Going back into the regular season and the playoffs, Hershiser has now allowed just three earned runs in his last 93 innings of pitching. On Sunday, along with everything else, he had three hits, including two doubles, and scored the Dodgers' first run. It was the first time a World Series pitcher has had three hits in a game since 1924.
But there was no personal gloating at his post-game press conference after beating Oakland, just his references to the fact that he made a lot of good pitches. Even though he admitted that he had geared up specifically to stop A's slugger Jos'e Canseco, who hit a grand slam off Tim Belcher in Game 1 of the series, he was very careful not to say that he could handle Canseco again.
Hershiser doesn't pitch as much as he ``crafts.'' Most of his pitches when they leave his hand look as though they came off an assembly line. But the direction of his ball changes about the time the hitter begins his swing, alternately appearing as a fastball with a tail on it; a curveball good enough to go around a button; or the previously mentioned sinker. His change-up isn't bad, either.
But these, apparently, aren't the only weapons he has up his sleeve, so to speak.
Because so much is happening just before the start of a World Series game, probably few people noticed when Hershiser called umpire chief Doug Harvey and plate umpire Durwood Merrill over to him. Once they got there, Orel pulled a plastic card out of his back pocket and talked to them about it.
``Sometimes in what figures to be a tough game, I find I need to remind myself of certain things,'' he said. ``So I write them on a small card that I carry out to the mound with me in my back pocket. The reason I called Harvey and Merrill over was so that during the game they wouldn't think I was doing anything illegal. Anyway, I think I only referred to the card four times.''
Although a large group of reporters asked to see the card, Hershiser declined, saying that it was something he didn't want to make public. But it seems inconceivable that a reference to Canseco didn't appear in there somewhere.
Five years ago the Dodgers' brass didn't know whether Hershiser was a starter, a reliever, or the next head librarian at Buffalo, N.Y., his hometown. The latter idea surfaced when he removed his contact lenses in the clubhouse and switched to Prof. O. How Wise glasses.
But it became clear after Hershiser opened 1984 in the Dodger bullpen (and Lasorda kept borrowing for random starting assignments) that maybe here was a guy who should go permanently into the club's rotation. If further proof was needed, it was all there in Orel's stats, including six complete games in the 10 games he did start.
Questioned about his transition from relief pitcher to starter, Hershiser once explained to reporters: ``I was glad it happened, because relieving just didn't suit my makeup. I'm not really the kind of guy who could come in and blow hitters away. What I like to do is look at the game as a whole, plan my strategy, establish early what my best pitch is that day, and work methodically.''
It also helps if you've got an inquiring mind and a rear pocket on your baseball uniform that can handle a 3-by-5 reminder card encased in plastic.
Postscript: People often ask where Orel Hershiser's unusual name came from. Well, it's been in the family awhile. The Dodger pitcher is Orel Leonard Hershiser IV, but beyond that the best clue comes from tennis star Martina Navratilova, who worked in a TV shoe commercial with him. During a break in the filming, she told him that his first name in Slavic means ``eagle.''