Deshaies recalls making history 25 years ago
It’s been 25 years since Astros pitcher Jim Deshaies secured his place in history, pitching the kind of game he could only dream about. He mowed down the Los Angeles Dodgers like he was Nolan Ryan and Mike Scott wrapped in one, only to be upstaged by both of those players – his teammates on the 1986 Astros — within a span of 48 hours.
Even though Ryan threw seven no-hitters and struck out more batters than anyone else and Scott won the National League Cy Young and fanned 306 batters in 1986, they were never able to do what Deshaies accomplished on Sept. 23, 1986.
Friday marks the 25-year anniversary of the game in which Deshaies set a modern-day Major League record by striking out the first eight batters he faced in a 4-0 win over the Dodgers. Deshaies fired a two-hit shutout, striking out 10 batters in the Astrodome, to help the Astros move to within two wins of clinching the NL West title.
“Somehow it seems like a long time ago and other times not so much,” said Deshaies, now a popular Astros television broadcaster. “The bottom line is I had hair back then and I could run from home to first base with needing a ventilator. That was a long a time ago.”
With the Astros rolling towards the division title, a crowd of 27,734 came to the Astrodome on a Tuesday night to watch the Deshaies face the Dodgers, who were the Astros’ biggest rival at the time. It was earlier that year Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda proclaimed the Astros were simply renting first place. Turns out they were renting to own and won the division by 10 games.
Deshaies was a 26-year-old left-hander who was en route to winning 12 games in his first full season in the Major Leagues. He was pitching for the first time that Tuesday in nearly two weeks and felt strong coming out of the bullpen before the game, which wasn’t always the case for him.
“I was terrible at the start of games,” Deshaies said. “The team was always holding its breath until I could get through the first couple of innings and I picked up steam as I went along. But I had been on the DL, or at least shut down for 10 days prior to that start. I think for that reason, I felt pretty fresh coming out of the pen. Beyond that, there was no way to predict anything goofy like that would happen.”
Deshaies started the game like gangbusters, striking out Steve Sax, Reggie Williams and Enos Cabell in the first inning. Dodgers slugger Pedro Guerrero led off the second and battled Deshaies in a long at-bat that went beyond a dozen pitches. Deshaies kept throwing high fastballs and kept watching Guerrero foul them off. He finally struck him out looking by throwing a changeup.
“I got a break,” Deshaies said. “It probably wasn’t a strike. That’s the one at-bat I recall.”
Deshaies finished the inning by striking out Alex Trevino and Jeff Hamilton, giving him six strikeouts to start the game. When Dave Anderson became his seventh consecutive strikeout victim to start the third inning, Deshaies began to hear the crowd buzz.
“After I got the seventh, I get the ball back and I was rubbing it up and I hear a secondary ovation,” he said. “I kind of turned around and look at the scoreboard and they put a message saying, ‘Jim Deshaies has just tied the modern record for most strikeouts to start a game with seven.’ That was the first time I got wind of something was going on.”
Deshaies broke the record by striking out Jose Gonzalez to bring up the ninth spot in the order, which would have been pitcher Dennis Powell had Lasorda not decided he had seen enough strikeouts and sent Larry See to pinch-hit for him.
“At that time, you’re so caught up in what you’re doing and you don’t second-guess what’s going on,” Deshaies said. “It didn’t cross my mind it was out of the ordinary or to question his motives. I really felt I should have gotten the ninth one. I had him 2-2, I believe. When you’re pitching and in a zone like that, you can almost foresee results if you make a certain pitch.
“I was pretty convinced if I could throw up here [chest high] that there was a real good chance he was going to chase. I tried to throw it up there and I got it down and he popped it up. It wasn’t until after the game people said, ‘What’s Larry See doing pinch-hitting?’ It kind of bothered me for the longest time, but the more you think about it, it’s September baseball.”
In fact, Powell was a part-time starter and appeared in 27 games that year, only five of which were starts. He hadn’t thrown more than 3 1/3 innings in a game in more than five weeks.
“I think it was more of Tommy saying he didn’t want this thing to keep going on,” Deshaies said.
Deshaies struck out only two batters the rest of the way, but pitched the entire nine innings for the first of his six career shutouts.
With the Astros now on the verge of clinching, more than 37,000 fans came to the Astrodome the next night and watched Ryan strike out 12 batters in eight scoreless innings, allowing just one hit, in a 6-0 win over the Giants. Deshaies’ performance suddenly took a back seat.
“I’m in the clubhouse after the game and I’m shaving and [catcher Alan] Ashby is next to me, so I joked and said, ‘Everything that Nolan’s done in the game, and you think he could have let me be the guy for more than 24 hours?’ I was just having fun with it,” Deshaies said. “Ash says, ‘Well, I’ve got a feeling Scotty’s going to come out tomorrow and show you both up.”
The next day, Sept. 25, 1986, produced one of the greatest moments in team history. Scott became the first pitcher to toss a no-hitter in a clinching situation when he shut down the Giants, striking out 13 batters, to give the Astros the NL West crown with a 2-0 win.
Deshaies, Ryan and Scott provided three of the team’s most memorable pitching performances in consecutive games, something which Deshaies still takes much pride in 25 years later.
“It’s kind of fun to be lumped with that three-game sequence, a two-hitter, one-hitter and no-hitter,” Deshaies said.
Every now and then, Deshaies gets wind of a pitcher who struck out five or six batters to start a game, but his record has stood the test of time for a quarter-century.
“If it does get broken, I hope it’s by an obscure guy,” Deshaies said. “I doesn’t need to be CC Sabathia or Roy Halladay. It needs to be someone like Jim Deshaies. It needs to be some middling fourth starter. That would be my dream.”