It's hot at RFK Stadium these days, uncivil hot. Hot in the sun, hot in the shade. Hot beneath the stadium lights and the glare of the television cameras. Hot amid the pressure of a pennant race. Perhaps that is as good an explanation as any as to what got into Washington Nationals pitcher Livan Hernandez following a bitter loss Wednesday night. And whatever it was, it still had not left his system by yesterday afternoon.
After seemingly threatening Wednesday night to have season-ending surgery on his aching right knee -- and alluding cryptically to an unspecified grievance against an unspecified party that he would reveal only after the season -- Hernandez yesterday claimed those comments had been misunderstood and taken out of context, vowing he would make his next scheduled start Tuesday at Atlanta.
"I'm not going to miss a start," the all-star right-hander said yesterday, while acknowledging the knee likely would need surgery after the season. "[Wednesday] night, I not feel good. You don't know my body. You don't know what happened."
Hernandez, a 30-year-old native of Cuba, spoke those words, in his broken English, calmly and measurably as he stood near his locker in the Nationals' clubhouse. However, a few minutes earlier, he bombarded members of the media during a profanity-laced tirade centering on the media's portrayal of his Wednesday night comments.
"I never [expletive] quit," he shouted. "Never. For eight years, I pitch every [expletive] day. And everybody know. Every day, hurt. They say, 'Livan is a quitter. Livan is going to quit.' [Expletive.] I go pitch. I'm good. I go pitch."
Both Nationals Manager Frank Robinson and General Manager Jim Bowden shrugged off Hernandez's comments Wednesday night as the result of frustration over a tough 3-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies, the team's 10th in its last 14 games, and a particularly painful night for Hernandez's knee, which has been bothering him for much of the season.
"He was a little frustrated, a little angry," Robinson said. "His knee has been bothering him since May. . . . We all have to let off a little steam."
"He should've won the game [Wednesday] night," Bowden said. "He's been pitching with a lot of pain in his knee. He's going to pitch with pain in his knee the rest of the year. But the guy's a gamer and a winner, period."
Hernandez sounded Wednesday night like a pitcher who was ready to shut it down for the rest of the year.
"It's 99.9 percent I'm not going to pitch no more" this season, he told a group of reporters. "I'm done, I think, so let's see what happens. . . . I'll go to sleep and I'm going to make a decision." He also said, "I'm tired of something. I'll tell you when the season's over. I'm mad."
Yesterday, Hernandez attempted to clarify the "99.9 percent" comment: "It's not the [loss], that's not the problem. The problem is that I not feel good. My knee was bad. . . . It's not always bad. That's the only day I feel like that. It happened when I ran to first base and I feel something different that I not feel before. So I said, maybe when I wake up in the morning, 99.9 percent I need the surgery, maybe. . . . My knee look like it going to explode, last night. You don't know. My knee, I think I cannot work. That's why 99.9 percent."
Part of the problem, undoubtedly, was the language barrier. When Hernandez first broke into the majors, with the Florida Marlins in 1997, he spoke almost no English and did interviews with a Spanish-speaking translator. However, the San Francisco Giants, for whom he pitched from 1999 to 2002, encouraged him to learn English and begin doing interviews in that language.
Still, there seemed to be little room for misinterpretation in Hernandez's comments about his plans to reveal after the season what has been bothering him. Hernandez did not address questions seeking a clarification yesterday, and a team official who was monitoring the interview cut off several questions.
Speculation has centered on two possible explanations for Hernandez's discontent: the team's decision on Wednesday to jettison veteran Wil Cordero, a close friend of Hernandez's, and Hernandez's frequent chafing at what he sees as Robinson's quick hook. On Wednesday night, Robinson lifted Hernandez for a pinch hitter during the bottom of the seventh inning.
"I don't know what's bothering him," Robinson said yesterday.
Perhaps Robinson, like everyone else, will find out at the end of the season, just as Hernandez promised, once the heat dies down and folks can have civilized conversations again.
Staff writer Eli Saslow contributed to this report.