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Calling A Game

April 05, 1989
April 05, 1989

Table of Contents
April 5, 1989

Baseball 1989
All My Padres
Scouting Reports
Scouting Report
Basebal 1989
Point After

Calling A Game

On the evening of Oct. 16, 1988, in Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Orel Hershiser pitched a three-hit shutout in Game 2 of the World Series. The Dodgers beat the Oakland A's 6-0 and went on to become the unlikely world champions. Hershiser spun a 106-pitch masterpiece that night, but he would be the first to say that he didn't do it alone; his partner was Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia, who flashed the signals for every pitch. Scioscia recently met with SI's Peter Gammons and reviewed that game, batter by batter. Here's his analysis.

This is an article from the April 5, 1989 issue Original Layout

First and foremost, calling a game is based on your pitcher's strengths and weaknesses. Coaches can talk all they want about the scouting report on an opposing team, but I know this: You have to begin your strategy by having your own scouting report on your own pitchers, from the starter to every reliever who might be used. The scouting report on the A's hitters was that most of them had trouble with good fastballs in and above the belt. Well, Orel doesn't like to pitch high and inside much. He has one of the great sinking fastballs. He's not going to change, and he doesn't have to. Besides, if you pound away at one spot with one pitch to any good hitter, he'll eventually adjust.

The second element in calling a game is the most underrated: situation. This is where the catcher has to think like a manager. Sometimes a pitch to a particular hitter is dictated by the next two or three batters coming up, or sometimes by who's ready in the bullpen.

The third element is knowing the hitters' weaknesses, but this factor shouldn't be overplayed. There are managers who like to tell pitchers, "Don't throw so-and-so a fastball." That's wrong. If a hitter is properly set up by the pitcher, there are a number of ways to get him out. I watched the A's hit in batting practice before the first two games to look for little tendencies. For instance, when I heard a hitter ask the batting practice pitcher for a curveball, I watched to see if the hitter made any adjustment with his feet; if he did, he would probably move his feet similarly in a game, and that would indicate to me that he was sitting on the breaking ball. Only the catcher and pitcher can see that, or can see a hitter moving forward a few inches in the batter's box or closer to the plate.

That's why it doesn't make any sense for a manager to call pitches from the dugout. If the manager wants a curveball and I can see by the hitter's feet that he's sitting on the curve, do we throw the curve anyway because the manager says so? Do we stop the game, call out the manager and throw off the pitcher's tempo? A manager can't call pitches from the dugout. The right pitch can be what the book says is wrong.

Inning 1

CARNEY LANSFORD
The scouting report on Lansford was pretty basic: aggressive first-pitch hitter who should be pitched inside, especially since he was badly bothered by a sprained thumb. So right away, Orel bore a sinking fastball down and in on him, and he hit a ground ball to third. I should clarify here that what I call Orel's fastball is really several different pitches. He sometimes throws a straight or rising fastball, which I will refer to simply as "fastball." But usually Orel's fastball sinks; it could just as well be termed a hard sinker, but I'll call it a "sinking fastball." What's more, he throws each type of fastball at several different speeds.

DAVE HENDERSON
Our approach in Game 2 was to establish in the minds of the Oakland hitters that we would pitch inside, but then try to get most of them out with one of Orel's two best pitches, the sinking fastball away or the curveball. Against Henderson, we went with sinking fastballs in and out; once Orel had gotten comfortable, we could go to his curveball and changeup. At the 1-and-2 count, Orel missed with two more sinking fastballs away. We figured now Henderson was probably thinking curveball or the sinker away, so we came back with a sinking fastball inside. Henderson swung and missed, strike three.

JOSE CANSECO

Orel started Canseco off with a fastball low inside that Canseco fouled off. Now the scouting report says, "Don't change speeds on Canseco," and with good reason. But we wanted to put a negative thought in Canseco's mind, so Orel threw a virtually unhittable pitch, a changeup off the outside corner. One-and-one. I wanted to throw him a curveball here, but Orel still wasn't sure of the feel of his curve, so we went with his sinking fastball and Canseco popped it up to rightfield.

No runs, no hits, no errors, none left. Dodgers did not score in the bottom half of the inning. The score after one: 0-0.

Inning 2

DAVE PARKER
Parker is a dead lowball hitter. But with him leading off, we were willing to stick with sinking fastballs and figure that he wouldn't get anything more than a ground-ball single. The scouting report said he's a first-pitch hitter. Orel was simply trying to get the first pitch over with something on it. It was a good sinking fastball, but it ran over the middle of the plate and Parker jumped on it and lined a single to center.

MARK McGWIRE
The report said that McGwire likes the ball down and out over the plate so that he can extend his arms. Orel started him with a fastball low, but way out of the strike zone. In this situation what we really needed was a double-play ground ball, and Orel's best pitch here is his sinker. We had pounded McGwire inside in Game 1, and I think he was still looking inside. Orel threw him a sinker away. For him, it was a mediocre sinker—down and out over the plate, right where McGwire likes it—but McGwire hit a ground ball for a 6-4-3 double play. So much for the book.

RON HASSEY

On the first pitch, Orel threw a sinking fastball away, and Hassey hit it to Steve Sax for the third out. It wasn't a good sinker, but Hershiser has such great stuff that even his bad sinkers break late. And most of the Oakland hitters weren't used to how sharply his pitches break. There isn't another pitcher like Hershiser, who has both the 90-mph, darting, running sinker and the super overhand curveball to complement it. Great stuff is a great equalizer for mediocre location and a dumb catcher.

No runs, one hit, no errors. Dodgers did not score. Score: 0-0.

Inning 3

GLENN HUBBARD
The first pitch was a sinking fastball that sailed up; Orel lost the release point. But two of his next three were called strikes. Then, at 2 and 2, Orel threw his first curveball of the game—and it sailed toward Hubbard's face. At that point I figured Hubbard was looking for the sinking fastball away, so we went inside. It was a poor pitch—too far out over the plate—but Hubbard got fooled just enough and looped an easy pop-up to Orel. With Hubbard guessing because of the way we'd worked him, Orel's margin of error was big enough to get an easy out with a mediocre pitch.

WALT WEISS
With one out and the pitcher on deck, we went right after Weiss with a fastball up and in, and it was fouled off. Then a change down and in. Then a sinking fastball that got up and away. At 2 and 1, Orel threw a good sinking fastball away. Ground ball back to Orel.

STORM DAVIS

Two sinking fastballs, two strikes. Then Orel stepped off and started wandering around the mound, so I went out to him. Orel thinks so much and can do so many things with a baseball that sometimes he makes things difficult for himself—and he was doing just that with two outs and an 0-and-2 count on the pitcher. We went back to sinking fastballs, but then Orel gave him a tough curveball for a called third strike. It was a good low-risk opportunity to find the feel of his curveball, and it established the curve in the A's minds for the next time around the order.

No runs, no hits, no errors. Dodgers scored five runs. LA. 5, Oakland 0.

Inning 4

LANSFORD
With our five-run lead, it helped having the top of the order up right away to keep our concentration. We tried to take advantage of Lansford's first-ball hitting and threw a changeup out of the strike zone. He didn't bite. At 2 and 0, our five-run lead changed the situation; Lansford was taking all the way—which he would not have been doing in a closer game. Orel threw one right down the middle with no movement, no nothing. At 2 and 1, Orel got away with another bad pitch, thigh-high and over the plate, but Lansford fouled it past third. Then Orel threw him a sinker that dropped a foot. Lansford chased it for strike three.

HENDERSON
The second time around, Orel began to change speeds and unveil his curveball. He threw a great curve for a strike to start Henderson off. Anytime a good pitcher gets his curveball over on the first pitch, the batter is on the defensive. The pitcher really has the upper hand; besides having control of the count, he has now opened up a wide spectrum of pitch selection. We went with an even softer curveball for strike two. This at bat was as good as over. On the next pitch, Orel just missed with a good sinking fastball away. Then we went back to the curve-ball out of the strike zone, and Henderson struck out swinging.

CANSECO

Orel threw a sinking fastball away for a ball, then a fastball for a called strike. But when he tried to go up and in at 1 and 1, he didn't get it up or in. If Canseco hadn't been pitched so well before, he'd have hit that pitch to Pasadena. Instead, he fouled it back. Orel then threw a curveball that rolled out of his hand and over Canseco's head; it was such a bad pitch that Orel actually started laughing as he turned away. But when he turned back to look for the sign, he was all business. Sinking fastball on the outside corner. Checked swing, strike three.

No runs, no hits, no errors. Dodgers scored once. LA. 6, Oakland 0.

Inning 5

PARKER
Shutting down a team after your own team has scored is a big part of pitching; it's very demoralizing to the opposition. Orel started Parker off with a breaking ball for a strike. After that, he shook me off when I called for another breaking ball and insisted on throwing a sinking fastball in. I didn't agree, and he made a bad pitch that he was lucky to get away with. But at 2 and 2, after two foul balls and a ball inside, Orel made a classic pitch. He changed up on a sinker down and away; Parker lunged way up on his front foot and hit a two-hopper to Franklin Stubbs at first. Unfortunately, it took a bad hop for a single.

McGWIRE
In the regular season, we know what adjustments the hitters are likely to make at the plate. With McGwire, we again wanted to go against the scouting report by pitching him down, because we wanted another double-play grounder. What we didn't know was whether McGwire would adjust, look for the low pitch and try to drive the ball down and away to rightfield. We started him with a sinking fastball at the kneecaps. I didn't see anything that appeared like an adjustment in his stance, so we went back to the sinker, thigh-high. McGwire hit a ground ball, double play.

HASSEY

For the last two innings, Orel had been changing speeds so well that a good off-speed hitter like Hassey had to be thinking about the curveball and the change-up. So we gave him five straight sinking fastballs. Orel ran the last one away and Hassey was late on it, lifting an easy fly to left.

No runs, one hit, no errors. Dodgers did not score. Score: 6-0.

Inning 6

HUBBARD
Orel had gotten Hubbard with a ball inside the last time, but it had not been one of his better pitches. This time, too, he threw him a halfhearted sinking fastball up, but Hubbard tried to pull it. Routine ground ball to third.

WEISS
In this at bat, Orel's sinking fastball started darting down better than it had all night. He threw two sinking fastballs in and a third away. Even though two of them just missed, the ball was moving so well that Weiss had to be defensive even at 2 and 1. So we went with a sinker, and Weiss was out just ahead of it and pulled it to Sax at second.

LUIS POLONIA

Polonia came up as a pinch hitter. The scouting report said that he hacks at almost every fastball and that he likes the ball away from him to drive to the opposite field. We knew it was his first at bat in the Series and that he would be anxious. We gave him a high sinking fastball so that he'd hack at it, but far enough out of the strike zone that he couldn't do anything with it. He popped up to left.

No runs, no hits, no errors. Dodgers did not score. Score: 6-0.

Inning 7

LANSFORD
In Lansford's first at bat, Orel had gotten him out with an inside pitch; in his second at bat, we'd set him up inside, gotten him on a pitch outside and shown him a good range of speeds. Orel didn't need to get tricky now, but he did shake me off twice before the first pitch. The second shake-off was a fake, just to get Lansford thinking. Orel does those things. Now he had Lansford thinking, so we could keep it simple. Sinking fastball away, ground ball to third. The ball took a weird hop under Jeff Hamilton's glove for an error. Nothing you can do about a bad hop.

HENDERSON
With Lansford on first, it was important to get Henderson out so there wouldn't be two men on when the linebackers came up. Orel got him into an 0-and-2 hole with a curve high and away and a fastball away, which were both fouled off—and Henderson hadn't even seen the sinker away. When Orel finally threw it, it was perfectly placed on the outside corner; Henderson hit a ground ball to Sax, but not hard enough for a double play. One out, man on first.

CANSECO
Talk about getting away with a mistake: Orel threw a ball over the middle of the plate, down in Canseco's power zone. Maybe Canseco was overanxious, maybe Orel was just lucky, but Canseco hit a fly ball to John Shelby in center. That ball should have been in the blue seats. Orel had burned so much energy in the early innings that he was beginning to get tired. If it hadn't been 6-0, we would've had our bullpen up.

PARKER
All we wanted at this point were outs; we weren't concerned about the shutout. So Tracy Woodson, who'd replaced Stubbs at first base, didn't even hold Henderson on. By playing the defense soft, we had the option of throwing an off-speed pitch to Parker and trying to get him to pull another ground ball to first. So Orel threw a sinker in, but Parker let it go for a ball. This was a case when we decided to go with Orel's strength against Parker's strength; Parker went right after the first low sinking fastball he saw and lined it into center for a single. First and second, two out.

McGWIRE

We'd gotten him out twice on pitches where we weren't supposed to pitch him: low. So we went back again with a sinking fastball, low and outside, and then another sinking fastball away, which he lofted to right for the third out. If that pitch had been any more toward the middle of the plate or just a little bit higher, he might have hit a three-run homer. We had pounded outside too many times to get away with a mistake, and we came within a hair of making one.

No runs, one hit, one error. Dodgers

Inning 8

HASSEY
Hassey hadn't seen a breaking ball in two at bats, so we started him off with two of them; the first was a called strike and the second was fouled off. At 2 and 2, after two outside sinking fast-balls that he didn't bite on, we went back to the curve and froze him—but it just missed the corner. After a fouled sinking fastball, Orel struck him out looking with a fastball on the outside corner at the letters. Hassey argued and might have been right. We might have gotten a break.

HUBBARD
I could see that Orel was tired. After a couple of curves down and away—with a called strike on a fastball in between—Orel tried three straight times to throw sinking fastballs; all three ended up around Hubbard's letters, though he swung and missed on one. When Orel gets tired, he overthrows and loses his release point, so vital to that pitch. On the 3-and-2 pitch, he walked Hubbard on a sinking fastball inside, his first base on balls of the game. But until there was bigger trouble, [manager] Tommy [Lasorda] was going to stick with Orel because Orel was 7-0 over the past seven weeks. And the score was still 6-0.

WEISS
We decided not to hold Hubbard on first, and the strategy paid off once again. With Woodson playing soft, Orel could afford to go off-speed and let Weiss pull the ball. So on the O-and-1 pitch we went to the sinker, and Weiss hit it on the ground right to Woodson, who made the force at second.

DON BAYLOR

Baylor was pinch-hitting. The scouting report said he likes the first pitch, so we started him with a curveball. It was a strike, so we were in control. At 1 and 2,1 went to the mound to make sure Orel and I were thinking alike. We could have gone inside—which is the way to get him out. But I thought he'd looked defensive fouling off the last fastball and felt we could get him with any breaking ball. Orel threw one down and out of the strike zone, Baylor went around on a half-swing, and the inning was over.

No runs, no hits, no errors. Dodgers did not score. Score: 6-0.

Inning 9

LANSFORD
If the game were as close as three runs at this point, Orel wouldn't have come out to pitch the ninth. He was very tired. He started the inning with a sinker in the dirt, and he eventually walked Lansford on five pitches.

HENDERSON
To heck with the shutout, we needed three outs. So the infield was playing back, playing safe. On the 1-and-0 pitch Lansford stole second; one pitch later Orel threw the curveball and Henderson grounded it to Hamilton. One out, man on second.

CANSECO
When working from the stretch in the last couple of innings, Orel had had some problems keeping his sinker down, so now he considered going to a windup even with men on base. But he decided to stay in the stretch, at least for the moment. In a closer game we would have pitched around Canseco. He's the first guy we wouldn't let beat us. Orel just tried to keep sinking fastballs in good spots and got ahead 0 and 2 on two called strikes. Then he threw a sinker, and Canseco hit it on the ground to short. Two outs, man on second.

PARKER

Orel really wanted the shutout once he got this close, and decided to go to the windup. Parker had all three of the A's hits, and all had come on Orel's sinking pitches. We'd shown him the big breaking ball only twice before, so we started him off with a curve outside. Then a good breaking ball for a called strike and another curveball inside that Parker missed for strike two. Then Orel simply finished him off with an unhittable curve down and in. Swing and a miss. Strike three. Game over.

No runs, no hits, no errors. Dodgers win 6-0.

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Key

The numbers inside the bails indicate the sequence of pitches to the batter

[Red Circle]Sinking Fastball
[Sky Blue Circle]Fastball
[Yellow Circle]Curveball
[Green Circle]Sinker
[Brown Circle]Changeup