Yankees' Hernandez earns new nickname, MVP award
Posted: Tuesday October 19, 1999 01:56 AM
Orlando Hernandez kept Boston batters off balance in a dominating Game 5 performance. AP
BOSTON (AP) -- Fenway's fans didn't scare El Duque, and neither did the Boston Red Sox.
When you've fled Cuba -- by raft or by yacht, it doesn't matter -- nothing intimidates you.
On a night many degrees removed from his island homeland in temperature and locale, Orlando Hernandez wrapped up the New York Yankees' record 36th American League pennant in his typical Mr. Cool fashion. He pitched them past the Red Sox 6-1 Monday night to win the AL Championship Series 4-1 and earn the Most Valuable Player Award.
"I never thought this beautiful moment would happen to me," Hernandez said through a translator. "I would like to thank my teammates for all their support the last two years."
Less than 1 1/2 years after making his Major League debut, he's 4-0 in postseason play, with a 0.97 ERA, nearly halfway to Whitey Ford's Yankees record of 10 postseason wins. And he has an MVP trophy, matching the ones his half-brother, Livan, got with Florida during the 1997 NLCS and World Series.
Think that's impressive?
Toying with Major League hitters as if they were kids on sandlots, he's allowed four earned runs in 37 innings.
"He really likes his pressure situations," Yankees catcher Jorge Posada said. "It's a lot of fun to see a guy so intense, so aggressive. He wants the ball; he wants to be the guy."
Nothing seems to rattle Hernandez.
Not the taunts of Red Sox fans or the threat of debris flying on the field.
Not falling behind 3-0 in the count. He's just setting up the batter -- with more windups than most teams have pitchers.
Not questions about his age -- is he 30 or 34? He answers only to Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
Not the debate over whether he left Cuba on a raft or in a luxury boat. His answers are as hard to figure as his pitches.
On a staff that occasionally struggled for consistency, he became the anchor, never going more than three starts without a win after mid-May.
With all the concern about Roger Clemens' legs, Andy Pettitte's mind, David Cone's arm and Hideki Irabu's gut, Hernandez was the constant: Just give him the ball and let him pitch.
"It seems," Yankees manager Joe Torre said, "like 100 years ago when I saw him in spring training of '98 and watched him throw on the side: Wow! That big leg kick."
The fans were shivering at Fenway Park as Boston completed its 81st consecutive season without a World Series title. If El Duque was cold, it was hard to tell.
He allowed just five hits in seven-plus innings -- only one from the second through the seventh -- and struck out nine, making 138 pitches.
The Red Sox had first and third with no outs their first time up, and he got out of it.
"When I came out, everything was up in the zone," he said. "I was falling to the first-base side."
He made an adjustment, but the Red Sox put runners on first and second with two outs in the second before Hernandez got out of it again.
They got a runner to third with one out in the sixth, still trailing by just 2-0, and he escaped.
Jason Varitek's leadoff homer in the eighth was the only run he allowed. By then, New York had built a 4-0 lead.
"His fastball was jumping out of his hand," Posada said.
Last year, Hernandez was the savior, starting against Cleveland with the Yankees' season suddenly starting to slip away and beating the Indians to even the ALCS at two games each.
"To watch him grow -- ever since then, he dared people to beat him," Torre said. "Tonight was just another example."
After last year, pitching with the Yankees ahead 3-1 must have seemed easy.
"Ever since that day," Posada said, "he has stepped up."
Last year was guts; this was glory.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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