Fernando Valenzuela improved to 8-0 with an eighth consecutive complete game to begin the 1981 season on this day in Los Angeles Dodgers history. His start against the Montreal Expos on May 14, 1981, came in front of what was the largest crowd at Dodger Stadium in seven years.
Valenzuela’s undefeated record was saved by Pedro Guerrero hitting a walk-off home run in the ninth inning to give the Dodgers a 3-2 win over the Expos. Valenzuela had allowed a pair of solo homers and three hits overall in the outing.
His seven strikeouts tied for the second-fewest during the span of eight dominant starts to begin the season. Of those, five were shutouts. Despite not keeping the Expos off the scoreboard, “Fernandomania” reached a fever pitch that may evening at Chavez Ravine.
With that win, the left-hander improved to 8-0 with a minuscule 0.50 ERA, 68 strikeouts over 72 innings while holding opponents to a .172/.225/.212 batting line. Four days later, Valenzuela fell short of throwing a complete game for the first time and suffered a loss.
He went on to finish the 1981 season with a 13–7 record, 2.48 ERA, eight shutouts and 11 complete games in 24 starts. Valenzuela became the first pitcher to win both Rookie of the Year and the Cy Young Award in the same season, and he also earned a Silver Slugger.
Valenzuela still stands as the only pitcher since 1945 to win his first eight Major League starts.
The Dodgers celebrated Valenzuela and the 40th anniversary of “Fernandomania” with a pregame ceremony during their first homestand of the 2021 season, and he is also featured in the renovated center plaza area with a mural and display commemorating both his impressive rookie season and overall career.
“Fernando, on many levels, has impacted not only the Mexican community, Major League Baseball, the Dodgers. He’s just such a good man. I didn’t realize it’s been 40 years,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said this year.
“That’s crazy. For him to still be on the Spanish broadcast, he just kind of paved the way. We have two guys right now on our club that idolize him in Julio (Urias) and Victor (Gonzalez). He was a trailblazer, trendsetter, whatever you want to call it. What a great Dodger. I’m happy he was a Dodger.”
Will the Dodgers retire Valenzuela’s number?
With an unofficial team policy of only retiring jersey numbers of Hall of Famers — and an exception made for Jim Gilliam due to his tragic passing — the Dodgers are yet to immortalize No. 34. Though, no player or coach has worn it since Valenzuela, who is understanding of the situation.
“To me, it would be nice (if it was retired). But, right now I don’t see anyone wearing that number,” Valenzuela said.
“If anybody wants to wear it, it’s fine. If somebody is asking for that number, no problem. I know it’s going to happen sooner or later, but who knows? I don’t know what the Dodgers are thinking, but I’d be happy if somebody was wearing that number.”
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