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Hershiser stands up to Mariners' mania


SEATTLE -- It was a bad sign for the Seattle Mariners when Orel Hershiser said before the game that he "loved" loud crowds even if they were rooting against him.

"The louder the better as far as I'm concerned," said Hershiser before starting Game 2 of the American League Championship Series for the Cleveland Indians last night in the very loud Kingdome.

This was not a player who was going to be intimidated by the Mariners mania that has overtaken this town.

All those amazing comebacks? All those great swells of noise in the Kingdome? All that Mariners momentum?

Sorry, the wrong guy was pitching for the Indians.

"Being out there in all that noise almost gives me a peaceful feeling, like the sound of waves in the ocean," Hershiser said. "You're in your own world and you can really concentrate. I'd much rather pitch in that situation than in front of 3,000 people in Pittsburgh with one guy yelling at you from right behind the dugout."

And as if it weren't enough that his idea of fun was having 58,000 people screaming for his head on a platter, Hershiser said before the game that he was pitching "very close" to his level of 1988, when he threw 59 straight scoreless innings down the stretch and carried the Dodgers on his back to an improbable World Series victory.

"My stuff is close, my control is close and my health is close," he said.

The Mariners never had a chance last night.

Indians, 5-2.

"Of all the guys I've been around in this game, I've never seen anyone able to concentrate more consistently than Orel," Indians manager Mike Hargrove said after watching Hershiser limit the Mariners to one run and four hits in eight innings.

It was an enormous game for the Indians, "one we really had to have," Hargrove said. A loss would have put them down 2-0 in the series with Randy Johnson starting Game 3 for the Mariners tomorrow night. Such is the stuff of which all-time upsets are made.

But at age 37, supposedly long past his prime, Hershiser was out there in his "own world" with Cy Young stuff last night, so dominating that the outcome of the game was never a mystery. The Indians gave him all the support he needed with two runs in the fifth and two in the sixth.

"He's unbelievable," Indians second baseman Carlos Baerga said. "At his age, he's been our best pitcher since the All-Star break."

Said Mariners manager Lou Piniella: "He had good velocity, good location, a good, hard sinker. He threw his breaking ball for strikes when he was behind in the count. He just pitched a great ballgame. Like he's pitched in a number of these big games over his career."

As if the Indians, with their head-banging lineup, weren't gruesome enough already for opponents. Now, apparently, they have the second coming of Orel Hershiser, circa 1988.

It wasn't supposed to turn out like this. When the Indians signed Hershiser as a free agent last spring, they expected him to be a No. 3 starter, a veteran to chew up innings and tutor young guns. "Win 10 or 12 games, something like that," Indians GM John Hart said.

Why not more? Because Hershiser hadn't had a winning season for the Dodgers since 1991. Because he seemed on the downward slope of his career.

But he had pitched with a variety of arm ailments since undergoing shoulder surgery in 1990, and they all disappeared over the winter.

"I regained 3-5 mph on my fastball and just elevated everything," Hershiser said.

The Dodgers, for whom he had pitched since 1984, didn't know of his improvement because of the players' strike; he was working out in isolation, throwing pitches against a brick wall. The Indians were the first team to scout him once the strike ended, and immediately signed him.

"If there hadn't been a strike, I would have gone back to the Dodgers because they would have seen me working out," Hershiser said. "But they didn't."

The Dodgers' bad luck was transformed into the Indians' good luck. Hershiser went 16-6 during the regular season, and now is 2-0 in this postseason. His career record in October is 6-0.

"I've been building for the playoffs through the last months of the season," he said. "This is why I'm here. I felt a burden not to let the team down."

No problem. The Mariners' best chance to start something big came in the first, when Vince Coleman led off with a single and Edgar Martinez walked with two outs. But Hershiser struck out Tino Martinez to end the inning. His only mistake came on a home run ball to Ken Griffey in the sixth.

The big crowd still sent wave after wave of noise down on him, trying to get their team going, trying to get into Hershiser's head.

Wasted noise, wasted effort.

"I like noise and music," Hershiser said. "I like it when the crowd reaches a crescendo on the big pitch. I know I have to rise to the occasion."

He's been there, done that. And he's doing it again.

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