There were two separate, distinct theories on How to Set Postseason Pitching Rotations at work in tonight's Game 1 of the World Series. The egalitarian Atlanta Braves went with the pitcher whose turn was next. The New York Yankees? They gave the ball to their best pitcher.
And Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez validated that faith with seven innings of one-hit ball in the Yankees' 4-1 victory, further proof of Hernandez's status as one of baseball's best big-game pitchers.
"He continues to just make you shake your head," said Yankees Manager Joe Torre. "He was sharp right from the get-go."
Hernandez's career postseason numbers are staggering: a 5-0 record in six starts, a 1.02 earned run average. In baseball history, among starting pitchers with at least 30 postseason innings pitched, that ERA ranks fifth behind, among others, Babe Ruth and Sandy Koufax.
Hernandez, whose funky leg kick and ability to throw any of his pitches at any arm angle reminds some of Juan Marichal, struck out 10 batters tonight, including striking out the side in both the first and third innings.
Although it appeared Hernandez made only one mistake--the first-pitch fastball on the inside half of the plate that Atlanta's Chipper Jones smashed for a home run in the fourth inning--by Hernandez's count there were many more mistakes.
Another seemingly flawless inning would fly by, and still Hernandez would stroll back to the Yankees' dugout muttering, "Mistake, mistake." He felt lucky that more of those mistakes were not turned into home runs.
"It's my criteria," Hernandez said, through an interpreter. "That's how I base my evaluation of myself. If I am asked to throw a certain pitch in a certain place, and I don't throw it there, I get upset. It's just my way of reviewing my work."
Torre chose to start Hernandez in Game 1 tonight even though he had pitched the clinching Game 5 of the American League Championship Series victory over Boston, and even though Hernandez had been battered in his two career starts against the Braves (0-1, 9.72 ERA).
"I really didn't know what to expect," Torre admitted.
But Hernandez had earned the start with a 17-9 record and 4.12 ERA this season. With the other Yankees starters all struggling at one time or another, Hernandez had become the staff ace.
Then there was Hernandez's dazzling postseason history. He began to solidify his reputation by beating Cleveland in Game 4 of the ALCS last season when the Yankees were trailing the series 2-1. He then beat San Diego in Game 2 of the World Series.
This year, in four postseason starts, he is 3-0 and opposing batters are hitting just .147 against him. In the Game 5 clincher against Boston, he also pitched seven innings while giving up one run.
"I can't say if these are the best games I have ever pitched," Hernandez said. "But they were games that made my teammates happy and made me happy."
"It seems like every time he pitches, someone asks if this is the best I've ever seen him pitch," Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. "He's just that good."
Hernandez's 10 strikeouts tonight were the most by an American League pitcher in the World Series since Oakland's Blue Moon Odom in 1972. He had retired 10 of the first 11 batters in the game before Jones connected for the home run.
"I felt all my pitches were working well, but especially my control," Hernandez said. "Even though at the time the homer was the only run, I had enough confidence in my team that if I kept it close, we could win."