Work in Sports
Hernandez keeps Seattle at bay until offensive explosion
By Ken Klavon, CNNSI.com
NEW YORK -- A game of inches nearly turned into a measurement of anguish for the New York Yankees.
For seven gut-wrenching innings, the Yankees watched opportunity after opportunity slip away, while the Mariners somehow sidestepped each metaphorical javelin with the grace of Fred Astaire.
New York forced the issue in the opening inning, using two John Halama walks and a Mark McLemore error to set the table for cleanup hitter Bernie Williams. Instead of capitalizing, Williams topped the ball in front of catcher Dan Wilson for what turned into a rally-killing double play.
The play brought a chuckle from Yankees manager Joe Torre.
"I said to Zim [bench coach Don Zimmer], 'Have we seen everything yet?'" he said in reference to the Yankees' struggle to manufacture runs in the playoffs. "It was more comical at that point than feeling sorry for yourself."
But while the Yankees found "more ways to not score runs" as Torre put it, they could at least hang their hopes on starter Orlando Hernandez.
Celebrating his 31st birthday, Hernandez did his part for eight innings. Except for a two-out walk in the third that led to the Mariners' only run, "El Duque" was in playoff form, striking out seven and giving up six hits.
He entered the affair 2-0 with a 1.23 ERA in ALCS games, and with Wednesday's victory, improved to 7-0 lifetime in the postseason.
With the precision of a fine-humming motor, Hernandez came out strong. He struck out leadoff hitter Mike Cameron on four pitches. Then he whiffed Stan Javier before quickly putting Alex Rodriguez in an 0-2 hole. Two pitches later, Rodriguez was headed back to the bench.
"You have to tip your hat to him. For the most part, he made his pitches," said Rodriguez.
It was a good thing he did for the Yankees' sake. At last three potential chances to put runs on the board fell by the wayside as Hernandez kept it close. It wasn't until the eighth inning -- after the Yankees had gone 0-for-13 in the series with runners in scoring position before Williams' RBI single -- that Hernandez and his melancholy bunch could exhale.
Asked whether he was frustrated with the lack of run support, Hernandez said through an interpreter: "We all speak and we all encourage each other. I don't involve myself in the hitter's job because I don't know how to hit."
It was from the fourth through sixth innings that Hernandez showed his moxie. By the third, he had thrown 49 pitches, but 32 for strikes. By the sixth, he had tossed 93, scattering six hits that never amounted to anything.
"You have to get to him early," said Rodriguez. "He's just too tough. He's just too tough."