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Orel, what makes your sinker sink?

October 18, 1997

MIAMI (AP) _ Before throwing his first pitch to the Florida Marlins, Orel Hershiser had to explain what makes it sink.

Hershiser, now 39, turned in one of the most brilliant postseason performances of his career in Game 3 of the AL championship series. He pitched seven scoreless innings and left with a 1-0 lead, even though Mike Mussina struck out 15.

Afterward, Orioles manager Davey Johnson deftly accused the Cleveland Indians right-hander of putting water on the ball. It could have been stolen from ``Deep Thoughts″ on Saturday Night Live: If the ball sinks a lot, the pitcher must be putting goop on it.

``He prefers to have the cover of the ball moist as opposed to dry, and he will get water wherever he can get it,″ said Johnson, who lives near Hershiser in Florida and golfs with him during the offseason. ``He was going right from his mouth right to the ball and that’s illegal.″

Hmmmm. Does Hershiser’s success come from saliva and secretions? Is Orel the perfect name for him, only spelled wrong?

The Bulldog cleared it all up Friday night.

``Davey is very good at gamesmanship,″ Hershiser said. ``I was accused of that when we played the Mets in ’88. I’ve been accused of doing that only after good outings, never after getting bombed.″

Hershiser is still baseball’s premier playoff pitcher with an 8-1 career record. In two World Series, he is 3-1 with a minuscule 1.69 ERA.

He has always been coy about accusations of putting things on the ball. As renowned spitballer Gaylord Perry once told teammate Mike Hargrove: ``If I’ve got them thinking about it, then I’ve done half my job.″

``Stuff like that really doesn’t bother me,″ Florida’s Bobby Bonilla said. ``I just like to consider him a crafty veteran. Very crafty.″

Hershiser was just as crafty with reporters after Johnson’s comments. He acknowledged that he ducked the media for a day and a half after teammate Chad Ogea joked: ``He cheats and everybody else does. Why not? He showed me how to cheat but I said I couldn’t do it until I’m about 35.″

Said Hershiser, ``See, Chad made a mistake. That was his way of playing you guys.″

Some of the talk about Hershiser could be hard feelings. He rankles some opponents with his playful demeanor on the mound. He banters with batters, umpires and teammates. He employs a fancy hop-step when fielding a hot grounder back to the mound.

``The one problem I have with it is, when you know you don’t cheat, you feel sorry for the kids,″ Hershiser said. ``I feel sorry when they see us playing a kid’s game and using adult tactics to get under each other’s skin.

``I have not cheated and do not cheat,″ he said.

Even with younger arms all around him, Hershiser became Cleveland’s most dependable starter in August and September and right to his favorite month, October. He was 5-1 with a 3.19 ERA in nine regular season starts after coming off the disabled list on Aug. 13.

He has three no-decisions and a 2.45 ERA in the playoffs, making everyone forget about the 18 homers he allowed in his first 90 innings this season. Many of them were monumental shots, including Mark McGwire’s blast off the Jacobs Field scoreboard on April 30. The whispers started again that Hershiser was too old.

No one was talking about doctoring the ball then.

Hargrove said it was a no-brainer to choose Hershiser to pitch Game 1. He made the same choice in Game 1 of the 1995 series, Cleveland’s first since 1954. He faced Greg Maddux twice in that series, losing the opener but beating him in Game 4 to pull the Indians within 3 games to 2.

Now, before perhaps his last stand in October, Hershiser had to explain himself.

``He just has a good sinker,″ Hargrove said. ``And I know Ogea doesn’t cheat. I think it’s best dropped.″

Funny. That’s what Hershiser’s sinker does.

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