Cliff Lee's Dominant Playoff Run Invokes Memories Of Orel Hershiser

Orel Hershiser won the first seven decisions of his playoff career, a feat accomplished by only Orlando Hernandez (8-0) and Cliff Lee. (Photo credit: Bud Symes / Getty Images)

Both Lee and Hershiser began their playoff careers 7-0, just one win shy of Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez for the best start in MLB postseason history.

Watching the Texas Rangers' 8-0 win over the New York Yankees in Game 3 of the ALCS Monday night, the baseball world was treated to yet another dominant performance by Cliff Lee. Lee pitched eight shutout innings, striking out a career-high-tying 13 batters while only allowing two hits and a walk, giving the Rangers a 2-1 series lead over New York.

Lee became just the third pitcher in MLB history to start his career by winning his first seven postseason decisions, joining Orlando Hernandez, who started 8-0, and Orel Hershiser, who won his first seven playoff decisions for the Dodgers and Indians.

This isn't SB Nation New York, so I won't concentrate on El Duque, but rather use Lee to remember a great Dodger.

Hershiser began his playoff career with a start in Game 2 of the 1985 NLCS, and proceeded to allow two runs in a complete game win over the Cardinals. That win gave the Dodgers a 2-0 series lead, but sadly they would drop the next four games to lose the series. Hershiser started the final game of the series, and allowed four runs in his 6 1/3 innings of work, in a game the Dodgers would lose in the ninth inning on a crushing three-run home run by Jack Clark off Tom Niedenfuer. The four earned runs allowed by Hershiser were the most he allowed in his first 16 playoff starts, before imploding in the 1997 World Series against the Florida Marlins.

Hershiser's next postseason run came at the end of one of the greatest pitching streaks in history, in 1988. Not only did Hershiser end his 1988 regular season with 59 consecutive scoreless innings, a major league record, but also had nine straight starts of nine or more innings, allowing a total of four runs in his final 82 innings of the regular season.

Hershiser opened the NLCS against the "Mighty Mets," the 100-win and heavily-favored squad from New York, and took a shutout into the ninth inning, running his scoreless streak to 67 innings. However, the Mets rallied for three runs off Hershiser and Jay Howell to win Game 1, 3-2. The loss went to Howell, not Hershiser.

Thanks to a postponement, Hershiser was able to start Game 3, a rainy Saturday in New York, and left after seven innings with a 4-3 lead. However, thanks to a pine-tar ejection of Howell and subpar performances from three more relievers, the Mets scored five runs in the inning to win the game and take a 2-1 series lead. Again, this loss didn't go to Hershiser, keeping his perfect postseason record intact.

Hershiser added to his legend one night later, when he famously sneaked into the Dodger bullpen in the 12th inning, warming up without letting manager Tommy Lasorda know. As the story goes, Lasorda was furious when he was informed that Hershiser was warming up, but then quickly shifted his mood, asking how The Bulldog looked. Hershiser entered the game with the bases loaded, two outs, and a one-run lead, inducing a pop fly from Kevin McReynolds to end the game and notch a save in Hershiser's belt.

Hershiser pitched shutouts in each of his next two starts, in Game 7 against the Mets to capture the pennant, and in Game 2 of the World Series against the A's. Against the 103-win Oakland club, Hershiser allowed just three hits in Game 2, all to Dave Parker, while Hershiser himself had three hits at the plate. Hershiser and the Dodgers won both games, 6-0.

Hershiser's final start of 1988 was another complete game, a 5-2 win in Oakland in Game 5, clinching the World Series for the underdog Dodgers. Counting his final nine starts of the regular season, plus the playoffs, Hershiser ended 1988 on quite a roll:

Orel Hershiser's End To 1988
Starts IP IP/Start W-L Sv H R ER BB K ERA WHIP
14 124.2 8.89 10-1 1 73 11 9 28 89 0.65 0.810

In those 14 starts, ranging from August 19 to October 20, Hershiser pitched 11 complete games, plus another game in which he threw 10 scoreless innings in a no-decision.

Hershiser's next three postseason starts came in Cleveland in 1995, and when he won three games in the 1995 ALCS his career postseason record was 7-0, the same as Cliff Lee now.

Great Starts To Their Playoff Careers
Pitcher Starts IP IP/Start W-L H R ER BB K ERA WHIP
Hershiser 10 79.0 7.90 7-0 54 16 13 24 59 1.48 0.987
Lee 8 64.1 8.04 7-0 40 12 9 7 67 1.26 0.731

Given the difference in eras and offensive environments, I don't think there is any question that Lee has been more dominant than Hershiser was. But both have been amazing to watch, and I'm glad Lee is making me think of a great pitcher of Dodger lore.

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