ATLANTA (AP) -Brandon Webb was 9 years old - and not much of a ballplayer - when Orel Hershiser threw more scoreless innings in a row than anyone in baseball history.
``That was my first year in Little League,'' Webb recalled. ``I was probably sitting out there in right field, because I was awful.''
Awful? Really?
``Oh, yeah. I was terrible,'' Webb replied. ``I was getting in the minimum innings I had to play in the game, two or something, and getting my one minimum at-bat, then going to sit down on the bench for the rest of the game.''
He took up pitching the following year.
Now, he's closing in on Hershiser.
The Arizona Diamondbacks ace tossed a two-hitter Friday night for his third straight shutout and stretched his scoreless streak to 42 innings, the 12th-longest in baseball history.
After beating the Atlanta Braves 4-0, Webb finds himself 18 innings away - two more shutouts exactly - from breaking Hershiser's record of 59 straight scoreless innings in 1988.
``Just two more shutouts? Oh, I should have that no problem,'' Webb said facetiously, rolling his eyes. ``It's in the back pocket.''
It will be if he keeps pitching like this. The Braves came into the game with the NL's best average (.278) and third in the league in runs scored (4.96 per game), but they never had a chance against last year's NL Cy Young winner.
Kelly Johnson blooped a double to center in the fourth. Jeff Francoeur went the opposite way for a fifth-inning single, and was promptly erased with a double play. Mark Teixeira drew a walk in the seventh.
That was it. Webb faced two hitters above the minimum, got ahead in the count 21 of 29 times and went to three balls on just two batters.
``He threw what he wanted when he wanted,'' Francoeur said. ``All night he was a step ahead of us.''
Chris Young, who homered twice for the Diamondbacks, had more fun watching Webb pitch from center field.
``I'd much rather be on his team than facing him,'' Young said. ``You see the way his ball moves, and now he's got his off-speed pitches working better than ever. As a hitter, you just don't know what to think up there.''
Webb (13-8) isn't one of those guys who claims ignorance of his stats. He knows how many scoreless innings he's thrown already, and how many it will take to catch Hershiser.
``I know where I'm at,'' Webb said. ``It's going to be real tough to do, but I'm going to go out there and try to throw up zeros as much as I can.''
He became the first pitcher since Hershiser to go at least 40 innings without giving up a run and just the 21st pitcher in baseball history to reach that level of stinginess.
It's not like the Diamondbacks are scoring a lot of runs for Webb, either. His previous start was a five-hit, 1-0 win over Washington, and he was clinging to another 1-0 lead when Mark Reynolds gave Arizona some breathing room with a mammoth two-run homer off Lance Cormier in the eighth.
``It doesn't really affect me what the score is,'' Webb said. ``I do know if it's 1-0 that I need to bear down and not make too many mistakes. When you get those second, third and fourth runs like we did, you can breathe little bit. It's lets you go right at 'em and attack the hitters.''
Webb got a bit of a scare in the final inning. Not wanting to walk speedy Willie Harris, he left a pitch over the plate and watched it sail toward deep right.
``I was like, 'Just go right after him. I don't think he can hit one out.' And, boom, he got a good piece on it,'' Webb said. ``Luckily, there was the humidity here and it's a fairly deep park, so it stayed in.''
Justin Upton settled under the long fly, a few feet short of the warning track.
``Things are just going my way,'' Webb said.
He started his streak nearly a month ago, in a defeat of all things. Webb didn't allow a run in the final inning of his 6-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs on July 20.
He's won five in a row since, going seven innings apiece in wins over Florida and San Diego before beginning his stretch of shutouts with a 3-0 win at the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Hershiser was with the Dodgers when he set the record. The only other pitchers since 1940 to put together a longer streak than Webb are Don Drysdale (58), Bob Gibson (47) and Sal Maglie (45).
Over the last five starts, Webb has worked 41 innings, giving up 23 hits, seven walks and striking out 35. He's tied with Rube Foster at No. 12 on the scoreless list.
``It's a little weird,'' Webb said. ``When I do give up a run, I'm sure I will be a little down. It's going to happen sometime.''
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