By KIRBY ARNOLD
NEW YORK – Five days ago, Orlando Hernandez was the speed bump that tore out the Seattle Mariners’ transmission.
The New York Yankees pitcher remained undefeated in his postseason career by beating the Mariners in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium.
Tonight, we’ll find out if the Mariners have learned to steer in a different direction against the right-hander known as “El Duque.”
Hernandez, 7-0 in the postseason, is all that stands in the way of the Yankees’ 37th American League championship and their third straight trip to the World Series. If the Mariners beat him, they tie the series at three victories apiece and extend it to a deciding seventh game on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium.
When they step into the batter’s box tonight, players on both teams will dig in against a pitcher they saw less than a week ago.
Facing a man twice in a five-day period, whether it’s the Mariners going against Hernandez again or the Yankees against M’s starter John Halama, gives the hitters a fighting chance.
“Having seen him here recently, you remember how he pitched you in those games,” said Mariners first baseman John Olerud, who got one of the six hits off Hernandez on Wednesday. “He’s very unpredictable. He’s got three or four really good pitches that he can throw at any time. He’s got good control and can throw them all for strikes. He can really mix it up how ever he wants to.
“It helps having seen him and having some at-bats against him. But just because he pitched you one way the last time doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to pitch you the same way this time.”
Ah, there’s the challenge.
Major league pitchers, and hitters, are smart enough not to fall into patterns, especially those on teams that have reached this level. Hernandez undoubtedly will change his repertoire, just as Halama will.
“In the end, good pitches get good hitters out,” said Mariners pitching coach Bryan Price. “With the good pitching that’s been going on in this series, the hitters from both teams have to hit the mistakes that are presented to them. If there’s a good pitch to hit early in the count, we’re going to need to hit it and they’re going to need to hit it. Both of these teams are pretty disciplined in making good two-strike pitches, so you can’t let the mistakes go by.
“You might change your plan or approach, but if Halama throws good pitches, as well as their guy, the odds will always favor the pitcher.”
Mariners starter Freddy Garcia wasn’t nearly as effective the second time around (seven hits, two walks and two runs in five innings) in Sunday’s 6-2 victory in Game 5 as he was in a masterful three-hit performance over 6 2/3innings in the Mariners’ 2-0 victory in Game 1.
Price said the difference could have been the Yankees’ familiarity with Garcia.
“He was seeing the same team for the second time in a row,” Price said. “They made him throw more pitches, they didn’t make a lot of early count outs with ground balls on the sinker and they didn’t chase as many two-strike breaking balls or changeups down in the dirt. They gave him some pretty disciplined at-bats, and subsequently he had to throw a lot more pitches (95).”
The Mariners are likely to be just as patient with Hernandez today, but if they wait too long they could face a strike-two count and be guessing which one of El Duque’s four pitches will come next.
“He’s very tough,” Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez said. “The way he pitched the last time we faced him, he was very tough.”
The Mariners beat Hernandez on Aug. 6 by jumping on him early and feasting on the Yankees’ long relievers. They scored three in the first inning and had Hernandez out of the game by the fifth after nailing him for eight hits and five runs. Mariners right fielder Stan Javier, who probably will start tonight as manager Lou Piniella loads his lineup with left-handers, went 5-for-6 in that game.
Hernandez, though, has been a different pitcher in the postseason.
He went only 12-13 with a 4.51 earned run average in the regular season, but last week’s victory over the Mariners made Hernandez 7-0 in eight postseason starts.
The Mariners’ first strategic move against him?
“Well, pray a lot,” shortstop Alex Rodriguez said. “I think the way you attack him is that you have to be aggressive. You have to be selective, but he is going to give you a pitch to hit.”
And if they make contact like they did in August, the Mariners stand a healthy chance of extending the series to a seventh game.
Talk to us
- You can tell us about news and ask us about our journalism by emailing email@example.com or by calling 425-339-3428.
- If you have an opinion you wish to share for publication, send a letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org or by regular mail to The Daily Herald, Letters, P.O. Box 930, Everett, WA 98206.
- More contact information is here.