Zack Greinke’s scoreless innings streak for the LA Dodgers—now at 43 2/3 after shutting out the Nationals over eight innings Sunday—is one of the more remarkable runs in recent history. Greinke hasn’t allowed a run over his last six starts, though none of them have been of the complete game variety.
The historic scoreless innings run is the third-best in the expansion era (starting in 1961) behind only Bob Gibson (47 in 1968), Don Drysdale (58 also in 1968), and Orel Hershiser (59 in 1988).
And although Greinke’s overall ERA of 1.30 is better than what Drysdale (2.15) and Hershiser (2.26) put up during their amazing years (Gibson had a microscopic 1.12 ERA) his streak—even if it should continue—pales somewhat in comparison because of how he’s done it.
When Gibson completely shut down the opposition from early June to early July of ’68, he went the full nine innings in every outing.
Ditto for Drysdale whose streak started the month before.
Even when the bullpen usage had changed by the time Hershiser broke Drysdale’s streak in 1988, the “Bulldog” went at least nine innings in each of his September starts—including a 10-inning scoreless start on Sept. 28.
By contrast Greinke, who won the Cy Young award in 2009 with Kansas City, has not gone the distance during this entire streak. In fact, he’s only gone eight innings in two of these historic starts.
Is it a big deal? Of course it is.
With the way bullpens are set up nowadays, managers don’t bother waiting for pitchers to tire. They yank them after a certain pitch count—unless they’ve got a no-hitter going.
But that wasn’t the case for Drysdale, Gibson, and Hershiser. Not only did they pitch the later innings with a more tired arm, they had to shut down the same batters for a third and fourth time, which is even more difficult to do.
If that weren’t enough, Hershiser probably faced tougher odds than any of them.
In 1968, the pitchers ruled baseball so much so that the league lowered the mound the following season to get more offense into the game.
So, while Greinke’s run is very impressive, Hershiser faced much tougher circumstances during his streak.