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Fernandez, however, is caught in the vortex of Fernandomania. "I can't remember a day when someone didn't compare me to him," he says. "It's flattering, and an honor, but I'm Sid Fernandez. We don't pitch alike."
Fernandez came warily to Albuquerque, not wanting to offend. "Turned out the people were great," he says. "They treat me like another pro, not a 19-year-old. Nobody's called me rookie. Imagine how they could have reacted, guys like Mike Marshall who deserve to be in the major leagues."
The Dukes belong in a higher league. On Sunday, with one game remaining in the first half of the Pacific Coast League's split season, they had a 45-25 record and led the Southern Division by 9� games. Their park is "the worst in America to pitch in," according to Jerry Stephenson, a Dodger scout and a former Duke pitcher (1972) and coach (1973). Sports Stadium sits on a rust-red mesa, with the flinty ridges of the Sandias as backdrop. The park is 6,000 feet above sea level. There isn't enough humidity for tears. The wind can scream, and it always seems to blow out, carrying the ball with it.
"Last year people would leave our games in the fifth or sixth inning," says Albuquerque President Pat McKernan, "not because they were bored, but we had so many hits they'd look at their watches and say, 'It's almost 10 o'clock,' and leave."
Note the lack of pitching lore. The team ERA last season was 4.25. Everybody waits his turn at Albuquerque, everybody except the pitchers. "I expect Sid'll definitely be up here [in L.A.] before long," says Wade, "although I don't make those decisions."
Dodger Vice-President Al Campanis, who does, last week dispatched Stephenson to critique Fernandez. "He's 19, he's got a bit to learn," says Albuquerque Manager Del Crandall, who caught Warren Spahn regularly. "I hope Sid gets a chance to work things out before big league pressure comes."
Fernandez, "nervous and scared," had his good fastball for his first start in Albuquerque, a 14-4 win over Phoenix on June 13. Eleven of his first 12 outs were strikeouts, and he finished with 13 to tie the Dukes' nine-inning record. He did all of this in only six innings because the Dodgers have imposed a 140-pitch limit on him.
With Stephenson watching his second start, against Tucson, Fernandez didn't have his good fastball, but that made the 120-pitch, complete-game victory doubly impressive. It marked him as a more mature pitcher than had been previously believed. Fernandez gave up two home runs and a run-scoring double. But he struck out the next batter after each of those hits and allowed only two hits over the last five innings. He got half of his 10 strikeouts on curveballs on the outside black. He even used a changeup to get out of one mini-jam.
"I pitched tonight," he said later. "I didn't throw. The guy on the gun had me at about 85 [mph], and he said it wasn't bad in the teeth of this wind. [It had gusted up to 35 mph.] This kind of game will get me into the major leagues."