We interrupt the worship at the Temple of Doom overseen in a priestly manner by Cliff Lee to furnish this historical reminder: He is not the first pitcher to leave postseason opponents feeling like they do not have a prayer. At the risk of sounding sacri-Lee-gious, it's been done before. Longer, more frequently, and not that long ago.
The Texas left-hander, in fact, is in the process of authoring a new testament to the art of pitching by re-writing the Book of Orel. In 1988, right-hander Orel Hershiser dominated a postseason like few others before or since, almost single-handedly pitching the Dodgers to a World Series championship, with the notable miraculous assists of Kirk Gibson.
The Dodgers needed four victories over the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series, then four more over the Oakland A's in the World Series, to win the title.Hershiser, whose bespectacled bookworm looks earned him the ironic nickname of Bulldog, had a big piece of half of them while appearing in six of the 12 games. We'll start at the bottom line: In five starts and one very heroic relief appearance, Hershiser worked 42 2/3 innings, allowed five earned runs (1.05 ERA) and went 3-0 with one save. (Incredibly, October represented a "slump" after a September in which Hershiser had gone 5-0 with an 0.00 ERA, along the way breaking Don Drysdale's record with a 59-inning scoreless streak.) Three starts and 24 innings into this postseason, Lee is 3-0 with an 0.75 ERA. Lee is rightfully a modern marvel because of his legendary command, which routinely sends his walk-strikeout ratio off the charts. For this postseason, those numbers are 1-34, beyond the scope, or even the understanding, of any other hurler ever. Among mere mortals, Hershiser's numbers were outstanding: 13-32. But far beyond the mere stats, what made his postseason so remarkable and memorable was how he went about assembling them, accepting the double burden of leadership and responsibility to lend an underdog team that can-do air. Sort of what Lee has done for the Rangers, of course: Oct. 6, ALDS Game 1: Doubling the number of postseason wins in Texas history, Lee hurls five-hit ball for seven innings, losing his shutout on Ben Zobrist's seventh-inning homer but beating the Rays, 5-1. Oct. 12, ALDS Game 5: Lee's complete-game six-hitter gives the Rangers another 5-1 victory and the first postseason series win in their history. Oct. 18, ALCS Game 3: Lee's eight innings of two-hit shutout ball in Yankee Stadium turn the series tide with an 8-0 win that gives Texas a 2-games-to-1 lead and confidence. But here is something Lee has not done: Pitch three times on three days' rest; pitch once on two days' rest; pitch once on no days' rest. Hershiser did that in October 1988: Oct. 4, NLCS Game 1: He takes a 2-0, five-hit shutout into the top of the ninth but is chased by Darryl Strawberry's one-out RBI double. The Mets swamp closer Jay Howell for the rest of a three-run rally and 3-2 victory. Oct. 8, NLCS Game 3: Hershiser allows six hits in seven innings, but this time is let down by the Dodgers defense -- third baseman Jeff Hamilton's throwing error leads to two tying unearned runs in the sixth, and it remains 3-3 when Hershiser leaves after seven. The Mets work over the L.A. bullpen for five runs in the eighth, and win 8-4. Oct. 9, NLCS Game 4: Mike Scioscia ties the game with a two-run homer in the ninth. Gibson, rehearsing for bigger heroics to come later this October, gives the Dodgers the lead with a two-out homer in the 12th. A game of heroes demands one more, and Hershiser answers the call with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 12th. He gets Kevin McReynolds to hit an easy pop to center to end the 6-5 win. Oct. 12, NLCS Game 7: Complete-game, stress-free, five-hit 6-0 shutout to put the Dodgers into the World Series against the A's. Oct. 16, World Series Game 2: Everyone is still under the spell of Gibson's gimpy walk-off pinch-hit home run off Dennis Eckersley the night before, and the A's fall under Hershiser's spell. Another stress-free 6-0 shutout, this time a three-hitter. Oct. 20, World Series Game 5: Doing for the third time in 17 days in October something he had done only four times during the entire regular season -- start on three days' rest -- Hershiser goes the route on a four-hitter as the Dodgers complete their stunning five-game upset of Oakland with a 5-2 victory. Your move, Mr. Lee.