Mets History: Reigning Cy Young winners Frank Viola, Orel Hershiser clash

1990: Frank Viola of the New York Mets in action during a game against San Diego Padres at Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Dunn /Allsport
1990: Frank Viola of the New York Mets in action during a game against San Diego Padres at Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Dunn /Allsport /

On August 28, 1989, New York Mets pitcher Frank Viola faced Los Angeles Dodgers starter Orel Hershiser in a pitcher’s duel. The matchup was the first in regular-season MLB history to include both reigning Cy Young winners.

Before interleague play, the chances of seeing both reigning Cy Young winners face off against each other in a regular-season game was rare. The only chance was in the World Series when the American League and National League finally played each other. In a 1989 game between the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers, history was made.

August 28, 1989, was the day when the Mets sent Frank Viola to the mound against Orel Hershiser. Viola, who won the 1988 Cy Young as a member of the Minnesota Twins, joined the Mets in mid-1989 via trade. New York was hoping to return to the postseason and go a little further than they did in 1988 when the Dodgers defeated them and went on to win it all.

One of the biggest reasons why the Mets fell short of making it to the final round was the guy on the mound against Viola, Hershiser. The star righty was 1-0 with a 1.09 ERA versus the Mets in the 1988 NLCS. In the World Series, he won both starts and posted a 1.00 ERA while tossing 18 innings. His regular season was just as fantastic, hence the Cy Young Award.

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Viola’s Mets career didn’t get off to a fantastic start when he joined the team prior to the trade deadline. The team lost 4 of his first 5 starts. In his matchup, he would come away the victor.

Viola versus Hershiser lived up to the hype in almost every way possible. In a game that lasted just 2 hours and 16 minutes, only one run crossed the plate. A third inning single by Howard Johnson that plated Gregg Jefferies led to the lone run in this pitcher’s duel.

How on-point were these two? Viola allowed only 3 hits and all of them were singles. He ended up with an 85-pitch shutout complete with 5 strikeouts.

Hershiser wasn’t quite as dominant but did put together a fine day. Although he allowed 8 hits in 8 innings. Again, all were singles. The Mets had to play some old-school-style baseball to win this one.

Following the second Jeff Hamilton single of the game to lead off the fifth inning, the offense shutdown. No other Dodgers player reached base for the rest of the day. Viola retired the final 15 batters on his way to winning this classic and historically significant game.

Because neither team did make the playoffs that year, the performance is somewhat forgotten. Nevertheless, it made history.

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Rarer than a cycle, perfect game, or four home run performance, the two reigning kings took to the mound on this day.

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