LOS ANGELES -- And Orel Hershiser thought the last 399 days were frustrating.
In his emotional return from reconstructive shoulder surgery last night, Hershiser was beaten up by slow grounders, balls that bounced off gloves and a balk.
His patience was tested more than his shoulder, which held up for 86 pitches in four innings in an 8-2 loss to the Houston Astros before 39,127 at Dodger Stadium.
His numbers -- four runs, nine hits -- were worse than his actually pitching. But for one night, perhaps neither was as important as his presence.
Pitching in an official major-league game for the first time since April 25, 1990, two days before doctors rebuilt his shoulder and told him he may never pitch again, Hershiser was welcomed back with open arms and mouths.
The crowd stood and cheered and stomped for two minutes when he was introduced and took the mound. They returned to their feet after he completed each inning on the mound.
He was also given a standing ovation when he came to home plate for his first at-bat in the third inning, and when he left home plate for pinch hitter Kal Daniels in the sixth inning with bases loaded and two out.
Armed with a blank expression, Hershiser tried to act as if he had been on this mound just last week. But his emotions gave him away.
Before the first inning he paused both on the mound, and behind the mound, to silently stare into the sky in prayer.
Before his first pitch, he saluted somebody in the box seats above the visitors' dugout, and then saluted the Dodger dugout, where, among others, therapist Pat Screnare was watching.
After recording big outs he punched his fist into the air.
Upon bouncing a ball into left field for a single, he raced around first base as if he were going take second. Once he got to second, he was nearly thrown out by straying too far toward third.
Much to the dismay of the Dodgers, who were hoping for a three-game sweep against the young Astros, he also pitched as if he had not been here lately.
It took him 18 pitches to get one out. It took him 34 pitches to get through one inning.
By the time he faced one batter in the third inning, the bullpen had been up twice and pitching coach Ron Perranoski has visited him once.
He was pitching from the stretch in each of the first four innings.