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Postseason always brings out best in Hernandez

Posted: Monday October 07, 2002 12:10 AM
  Livan Hernandez Livan Hernandez ran his career postseason record to 6-0. AP

By Albert Chen, Sports Illustrated

Does this sound like a man about to pitch with his team’s fate on his shoulders?

As his counterpart, Tom Glavine, moves about Pac Bell with a stone face, barely uttering a word, there is Livan Hernandez, dancing silly around the Pac Bell grass, slapping the backs of his coaches, laughing out loud, twirling around in his ridiculously baggy, pajama-fitted, slumber-party pants.

Little kids are screaming at him from the stands, next to the Giants' dugout. Livan walks over with a bat in hand and gives it to a boy. Then he turns and shouts to a team assistant at the batting cage, where the Giants are taking BP. The man comes over and gives Livan another bat. Livan makes another wide-eyed boy happy.

An hour later, 30 minutes before first pitch, Livan rushes out onto the field all alone, stretching, running, jogging, to the cheers of the crowd. Everywhere he jogs, he waves, as if he has already pitched a win for the Giants. At 240 pounds, he often wobbles, not walks. He’s a clown out there. He loves all this attention. No wonder he loves the postseason.

On the verge of his biggest postseason start since his MVP performance in the 1997 World Series with the Marlins, the Giants’ Mr. October is in a very good mood. Why shouldn’t he be? Hernandez has thrived in this situation.

In his maddeningly underachieving career (he has a 69-69 record in five seasons, with a 4.42 ERA), Hernandez has gone 5-0 in six starts with a 2.75 ERA. His last postseason start was Game 1 of the 2000 NLDS, when he got the win against the Mets, tossing 7 2/3 innings, giving up one run on five hits and striking out four. Hernandez also posted an NLCS-record 15 strikeouts in Game 5 against Atlanta in 1997.

But he is coming off his second straight losing season, going 12-16 this year with a 4.38 ERA, after posting a 5.24 ERA last year with a 13-15 mark, but who cares right now? Hernandez is a new man, potentially the Giants’ most potent weapon as they continue their march to the World Series.

After striking out Braves second baseman Keith Lockhart with the bases loaded in the second, Hernandez pumped his right fist in joy. He had made the same motion a day earlier in front of his locker, when the subject of his postseason success came up. "Unbeaten," he said with a laugh as he pumped his arm. "I never lose in October. I want to continue that. Everybody says I like the big game."

With his win Sunday, Hernandez became only the fifth player in history to win his first six postseason decisions. The others: brother Orlando Hernandez, Orel Hershiser, Lefty Gomez and Mariano Rivera. Not bad company.

As he exited after retiring the Braves in the seventh, Hernandez walked slowly back to the dugout. He flipped the ball high into the air and into the stands, with a slight grin on his face. Hernandez is having fun again. It must be October.


 
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