There was nothing left of "El Duque." The White Sox knew this, of course, but they kept him around for one last inning, one last chance to save Chicago.
Orlando Hernandez trotted in from the bullpen in left field in the ninth inning of Tuesday night's Game 3 of the World Series and for a moment he was the "El Duque" of old. There was trouble, men on base, the Houston Astros surging and somehow he extracted himself from the chaos.
It was classic "El Duque." Some fastballs, some change-ups, a few swooping curves.
There was the one-out walk to Chris Burke; then the throw to first that bounced away, letting Burke go to second; the momentary lapse of attention when he went into a windup and Burke ran to third, putting the winning run 90 feet away, and the White Sox had to play the rest of the inning with the infield breathing down on home plate. But after walking Craig Biggio, Hernandez got out of this one just like he's gotten out of so many in the past, striking out Willy Taveras, putting Lance Berkman aboard with an intentional walk, and striking out Morgan Ensberg on a dramatic, swooping curve.
He had saved the White Sox one last time in a game they eventually won in the 14th inning, 7-5. And then he was done.
It happened in the 10th, when it was clear the magic had run out of his right arm. He walked the first batter he faced, pinch hitter Orlando Palmeiro. Then he shook his arm, a trainer sprinted to the mound followed by Manager Ozzie Guillen. They shook their heads. There was nothing left for "El Duque" to give.
So he left, replaced by Luis Vizcaino -- making his first postseason appearance -- who got the White Sox through the inning.
Hernandez was supposed to be done. The World Series heroics, the big games, the high leg kick -- these were all supposed to be a thing of the past. In a September gone bad he was pulled from the White Sox' pitching rotation and there was a sense that this was the last anyone would ever see of "El Duque."
Yet the team that has not made an important decision this year based on any conventional understanding gambled on his right arm, believing the years of doubleheaders in Cuba hadn't taken everything from it.
And he proved it was all worth it when he strolled in from the bullpen in Boston in the clinching game of the American League Division Series with the bases loaded and got Jason Varitek to pop up, Tony Graffanino to ground to short and Johnny Damon to strike out on a curve that plopped in the dirt.
In the days that followed there were whispers that Chicago was tempting fate. His arm was not right, people said. The White Sox never denied this; they just stayed silent. They had a perfect replacement, a rookie named Brandon McCarthy who had been wonderful in the final weeks. McCarthy was sure he would pitch in the World Series. Most were sure he would.
But the White Sox decided against McCarthy and picked Hernandez for the postseason instead, believing there was something left, something that could save them again.
Now, "El Duque" is broken and he may not be back during this Series. Putting McCarthy on the postseason roster might have been a more practical choice. Yet "El Duque" gave them one last inning Tuesday night. And for that moment, having him around was very much worth it.