By Thomas Boswell
Tuesday, October 19, 1999; Page D01
BOSTONóJust the Red Sox' luck. Their Fenway Park fans finally get
tough, do their ugliest imitation of Yankee Stadium goons, and what
happens? In the next game, the Yanks send Orlando Hernandez to the
mound, a guy who defected from Cuba in an open boat.
Do you think "El Duque" stayed up all night tossing and turning before
Game 5 of the American League Championship Series worrying that some
looped college boy might toss an empty plastic soda bottle at him?
The Yankees own the AL pennant again--how many is that now, 99 of 'em
in this century?--and they can thank Hernandez. After setting up the Game
1 win with eight strong innings, he tied the Red Sox in knots for seven
shutout innings while New York built a 4-0 lead.
There may not be a Curse. Babe Ruth's daughter was here and she swears
her dad wouldn't pull a dirty trick like that. But something's afoot. Of all the
pitchers in baseball, you couldn't have picked one--not one--as well suited
for the particular controversies surrounding this game as "El Duque."
On Sunday night, dozens of Fenway fans got rowdy, threw junk from the
stands at the Yankees and generally disgraced the proud name of Harvard.
Maybe even Southie, too. The mayor of Boston apologized. The Red Sox
apologized. The Boston media feigned horror. The numbers on the Jimmy
Fund sign would probably have apologized, too, if anybody had asked
Okay, maybe Jimy Williams didn't apologize, bless his heart. Told that
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said he "incited the crowd," the
Boston manager said: "When George Porgie speaks, I don't listen."
However uncouth their method, the Bosox fans had at least sent a
message--the kind that the Bronx Zoo has been delivering for decades.
Umps who blow too many calls and visiting players who dare to beat the
home team shouldn't feel too comfortable here. Something might happen. It
almost never does, of course. But the thought can unsettle the nerves.
Especially if the visiting team's pitcher has a tender psyche.
Yes, just the Red Sox' luck. They finally work up the unmitigated bad taste
to throw a scare into somebody and look who the Yankees send to the
mound. The bald guy with the high-knee kick, the mysterious birthday and
the best cell-block stare since Dave Stewart.
"What's to scare him after leaving Cuba? We really don't know what size
boat he came over on, but . . . he had to slide out of the country . . . hide
somewhere and be found," said Yankees Manager Joe Torre. "That's not
the way we got to the ballpark, I know that. So, this is just a game to him."
Actually, "El Duque" gave his thoughts on rowdy fans the day before
Fenway had its eight minutes of broken china on Sunday night. So,
Orlando, how do they compare for ferocity to Cuban fans?
"In Cuba, they throw rocks to tomatoes, to anything they can find onto
field," said Hernandez through his translator, coach Jose Cardenal. "If you
win, the opposing fans, they're going to try to beat you any way they can.
Then if you lose, your own fans are going to try to kill you. So, it's one way
or another. We don't have a choice."
Hernandez had to suppress his mirth. Which towns were tougher than
Boston? "Santiago, Villa Clara, Havana," said Hernandez. That doesn't
even count all the other Caribbean countries where Cuba's national team
plays in legendarily hostile parks. Latin baseball, especially what Cuba
faces in international play where they wear the black hats, makes the big
leagues look like a church picnic.
Maury Wills, managing in winter ball, once returned to the dugout after
removing a favorite local pitcher. The fans poured a bucket of urine on his
head. Now that's grass-roots public opinion in action. Hernandez grew up
in a baseball culture where rival fans don't even sit on the same side of the
stadium. By staying apart, they can use slingshots to lay siege to each
other. Hernandez pitched in parks where, over the years, sections of
bleachers were broken up to start good-luck bonfires.
When the wind-chill index is 26 degrees, the crowd is howling and the
Green Monster seems to loom about 10 paces behind your shortstop, it's
good to have those memories of Santiago and Villa Clara. The Red Sox
had Hernandez, who was 17-9 this season, in plenty of jams. Yet the hot
water just seemed to warm him up.
After the first two Red Sox hitters singled to put men at the corners in
first, Hernandez followed a slow windup with a 91-mph fastball on the fists
to strike out Jason Varitek. Nomar Garciaparra, slugging .875 in this
ALCS as he stepped to the plate, popped up and Troy O'Leary flied out
weakly. Well, so much for the heart of the order and the roar of the
With two men on, Hernandez ended the second inning by fanning the
hottest of all Sox--Jose Offerman, who was 11 for 21 in the series. Start
him with a slow curve, finish him with a hard curve under his hands.
Even a leadoff error by Derek Jeter in the sixth didn't faze "El Duque."
After falling behind O'Leary 3-0, he still got him to ground out. That
marked the third Red Sox batter to have Hernandez in a 3-0 hole, yet
never hit a ball hard. Mike Stanley and Brian Daubach finished the threat, if
you can call it that when the Red Sox get men on base in October, with a
soft fly and a weak groundout.
Before this game, there was much tut-tutting about the deterioration of
American culture, the cult of the self-centered individual, the contemporary
tendency to seek brief moments of unearned celebrity through violence
and--well--a whole bunch of stuff like that.
"Watch TV, go to movies, listen to radio," philosophized Torre.
"Everything's down now. There are no barriers anymore."
There's truth in all that. But, as usual, there's an opposite truth as
the world Hernandez comes from, the recent foolishness at Fenway is just
fluff. As they say, he knows what real pressure is. For the few who survive
such hardships, for those who have endured despite spending their lives
surrounded by perils worthy of an open ocean, the result is a personality as
tough as a trusty old glove and as solid as the tightest-grained ash.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company