October 13, 1997 in Sports

Rookie Whiffs Braves Emergency Starter Hernandez Lifts Marlins Close To N.L. Title

Evan Grant Dallas Morning News
 

Atlanta’s Greg Maddux, a four-time Cy Young Award winner, pitched Sunday like he deserved the award. But Florida rookie Livan Hernandez pitched like Cy Young.

Because of Hernandez, the National League Championship Series goes back to Atlanta on the verge of a monumental upset. Behind Hernandez, who struck out an NLCS-record 15 batters, the injury-riddled Marlins held off Atlanta, 2-1, in front of 51,982 frenzied fans at Pro Player Stadium.

The Marlins lead the best-of-seven series, three games to two, and will send ace Kevin Brown to the mound in Game 6, providing he recovers from the viral infection that has forced his scheduled start to be pushed back twice.

“That’s a special performance,” Marlins pitching coach Larry Rothschild said of Hernandez’s outing. “It needed to be a special performance.”

While Maddux, who won four straight Cy Young Awards, allowed just four hits and struck out nine in seven innings, Hernandez went the distance, allowing three hits and surpassing John Candelaria’s NLCS record of 14 strikeouts set in 1975.

Hernandez only squirmed into the rotation because Alex Fernandez suffered a career-threatening rotator-cuff tear in Game 2 and because Brown was too ill to pitch. He made the most of the chance.

Hernandez worked the outside corner for much of the game, benefiting from the generous strike zone of umpire Eric Gregg. The Braves complained afterward but didn’t say anything during the game.

“He had outstanding command from start to finish,” Marlins catcher Charles Johnson said. “He went away a lot and used all of his pitches.”

But if Hernandez got the win, Johnson deserved an assist. He noticed the rookie was living on his curveball early in the game. And though it was sharp, Johnson urged Hernandez to throw more fastballs.

The results were devastating. Hernandez got into a first-and-third jam with no outs in the first inning but recovered by striking out Chipper Jones, Fred McGriff and Ryan Klesko in order. In the second, he allowed a leadoff homer to Michael Tucker. Shortly thereafter, he and Johnson met on the mound.

“Livan had such a good curveball that he had to be careful not to throw all curves,” Rothschild said. “Charles went out there to remind him of that. After that, they mixed it up really well.”

Said Hernandez: “Charles did a tremendous job helping me out with the right pitches. I owe this victory to Charles.”

Well, not entirely. Bobby Bonilla and Jeff Conine, who came into the game a combined 1-for-26, provided all the offense. Bonilla had three hits, including a run-scoring single in the first. He also led off with a double in the seventh that popped out of Tucker’s glove when the right fielder hit the wall. He scored on Conine’s first hit of the series, a single.

According to the Braves, Gregg helped, too. Atlanta took six called third strikes, including the final out on a curveball to Fred McGriff that seemed well off the corner.

“I know I swung at a couple of pitches that were at least a foot outside,” said Jones, who struck out twice. “I asked if they were strikes and Gregg said, ‘Yes.’ I couldn’t help but chuckle. I’m so mad right now, I can’t see straight.”

Gregg took the unusual step of coming to the post-game interview room to defend his calls.

“Everybody knows me, and they come up swinging the bat, and they know I am consistent,” Gregg said. “I’m consistent on both sides of that strike zone. It was the same for both sides.”

The results weren’t the same. Florida took full advantage and put the Braves on the precipice of elimination.

They can push them over the edge Tuesday in Atlanta.

Marlins 2, Braves 1

Atlanta AB R H BI BB SO Avg.

Lofton cf 3 0 1 0 1 1 .182

Lockhart 2b 3 0 0 0 1 1 .364

ChJones 3b 4 0 0 0 0 2 .350

McGriff 1b 4 0 1 0 0 3 .353

Klesko lf 3 0 0 0 0 2 .231

Tucker rf 3 1 1 1 0 2 .167

AJones rf 0 0 0 0 0 0 .444

EddPerez c 3 0 0 0 0 0 .000

Blauser ss 3 0 0 0 0 2 .250

GMaddux p 2 0 0 0 0 1 .000

a-Gregg ph 1 0 0 0 0 1 .000

Cather p 0 0 0 0 0 0 —

Totals 29 1 3 1 2 15

Florida AB R H BI BB SO Avg.

DWhite cf 3 1 0 0 0 2 .125

Renteria ss 4 0 0 0 0 2 .158

Sheffield rf 2 0 0 0 1 1 .214

Bonilla 3b 3 1 3 1 0 0 .222

Conine 1b 3 0 1 1 0 0 .071

Alou lf 3 0 0 0 0 2 .091

CJohnson c 3 0 0 0 0 2 .133

Counsell 2b 3 0 1 0 0 1 .400

LHernandez p 2 0 0 0 0 0 .000

Totals 26 2 5 2 1 10

Atlanta 010 000 000 - 1

Florida 100 000 10x - 2

a-struck out for Maddux in the 8th.

LOB-Atlanta 3, Florida 3. 2B-Bonilla (1). 3B-Lofton (1). HR-Tucker (1) off LHernandez. RBIs-Tucker (1), Bonilla (1), Conine (1). SB-DWhite (1). CS-Lofton (1). S-LHernandez. GIDP-Conine.

Runners left in scoring position-Atlanta 1 (Klesko); Florida 1 (Renteria).

DP-Atlanta 1 (GMaddux, Blauser and McGriff).

Atlanta IP H R ER BB SO NP ERA

GMaddux L,0-2 7 4 2 2 1 9 84 1.38

Cather 1 1 0 0 0 1 16 0.00

Florida IP H R ER BB SO NP ERA

LHernandez W,2-0 9 3 1 1 2 15 143 0.84

HBP-by GMaddux (DWhite).

T-2:27. A-51,982 (41,855).


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