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.
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.
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.
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.
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.