October 18, 1998

El Duque shows nerves of steel

Yankees Game 2 starter Orlando Hernandez winds up during his 9-3
victory Sunday. Hernandez struck out seven Padres and gave up one
run in seven innings.

                           NEW YORK, Oct. 18 —  El Duque had just smoked
                           the Padres. Then he smoked a cigar. A Costa
                           Rican cigar. After all, the New York Yankees
                           only lead the World Series 2-0.
                                “I’M SAVING THE CUBAN for when we’re winning
                         the world title,” he said after flattening the Padres 9-3
                         Sunday night.
                                Orlando Hernandez didn’t just beat them, he
                         embarrassed them, made them look like Little Leaguers
                         hopelessly flailing away.
                                Overhand, sidearm, fastball, splitter. Hernandez’s right
                         arm seemed to be here, there and everywhere.
                                Nerves? Hah!
                                The World Series? No problemo.
                                After escaping Fidel Castro’s Cuba on a raft last
                         winter, everything else looks easy.
                                Scouting reports?
                                Not for this guy.
                                “He goes more with instincts,” Yankees catcher Jorge
                         Posada said. “He don’t know any of them.”
                                As the game ended and Frank Sinatra’s recording of
                         “New York, New York” boomed throughout Yankee
                         Stadium, fans reminded everyone that these Yankees are
                         filled with immigrants, unfurling a Cuban flag in the seats
                         behind home plate where players’ families had watched.
                                “I feel good that the people of Cuba were able to
                         watch the game,” El Duque said through an interpreter after
                         the game, dressed in a natty camel-colored sports coat and
                         pocket square, the cigar in his mouth.
                                “I always make it a point to find out prior to pitching
                         whether they’re able to watch it, and I’m very proud they’re
                         celebrating on my behalf.”
                                He allowed just one run and six hits in seven innings,
                         striking out seven. And for every one of his strikeouts, a
                         drawing of Castro was tacked up on the facing of the upper
                         deck down the right-field line.
                                Not exactly your ordinary rookie.
                                “He had good stuff. He hit his spots,” Padres manager
                         Bruce Bochy said.
                                San Diego’s best chance against him came in the first
                         inning, when Wally Joyner hit a drive to the right-field wall
                         with two on and two outs. But Paul O’Neill made a leaping
                         catch, taking away at least a two-run double and perhaps a
                         three-run homer.
                                “I thought it may have gone out but O’Neill made a hell
                         of a play,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said.
                                Last weekend, the Yankees turned to El Duque when
                         they trailed Cleveland 2-1 in the AL championship series,
                         when it seemed like those 114 regular-season games were
                         about to wash away into Lake Erie.
                                In floated Hernandez, who threw three-hit ball for
                         seven shutout innings. The Indians never recovered.
                                Some veterans crumble under postseason pressure.
                         Remember how Dave Winfield went 1-for-22 in the ’81
                         World Series?
                                “He’s not a rookie out there,” Posada said. “He knows
                         how to pitch. He knows how to get a strikeout when he
                         needs it. He showed it today.”
                                Last year, El Duque watched from CNN’s studio in
                         Cuba as his half-brother Livan went 2-0 in the Series for
                         Florida, getting the MVP award following the Marlins’
                         seven-game victory.
                                “My brother wasn’t able to make it today because of
                         prior appointments. He had card shows and things of that
                         nature,” El Duque said. “We spoke over the phone and he
                         told me a little how to pitch to this team.”
                                Last October, El Duque was earning 206 pesos a
                         month, about $10. Two months later he was on a raft,
                         making his way to freedom and the major leagues.
                                By June, he was in the big leagues. By September, he
                         was 12-4.
                                And now he’s at the top of the baseball world, a star
                         as the Yankees finish off one of the greatest seasons ever.
                                “I think,” Torre said, “he asks himself to do some
                         things that maybe he thought of as impossible.”

                                © 1998 Associated Press.