The Washington Post
October 19, 1999
 
 
Fenway's Peons Don't Faze 'El Duque'

                  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
                  them.

                  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 the
                  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 the
                  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
                  crowd.

                  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 well. In
                  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.

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