It's one thing to watch a scrub like Taynon Sturtze skate by the skin of his teeth, and another thing altogether to watch a real pro like Orlando Hernandez work. (El Duque may throw some horseshit pitches, but Sturtze is horseshit: no offense.) A rejuvinated Hernandez continues to throw well, mixing pitches, changing speeds, cursing at himself, pumping himself up, and wouldn't you know, smiling and enjoying himself too.
Hernandez is striking out batters at a good clip. He avoids specific hitters and challenges others. He is also surviving by living dangerously. He threw a 50 mph lob ball to Alfonso Soriano (who already had two hits) in the fifth inning: Sori was all over it and lined it back to Hernandez, who knocked it down and threw to first to record the out. Sori hit it back to Duque like they were playing catch. Hernandez smiled, knowing he got away with one. Hernandez slightly tips his lob ball by slowing his motion down just before he throws it. It seems more like a lob than an eephus, but now we're talking about semantics. Same difference. (Hey, anyone know of any other active pitcher who is throwing an eephus pitch?) Duque then walked Dave Dellucci--he walked three times--before striking out Michael Young to end the inning.
Hernandez was working with a lead. He labored at first, but settled down quickly. Miguel Cairo hit a grand slam in the second inning which would be enough offense for the Bombers. Good thing as the Yankees continue to strand runners on base, unable to come up with some key hits. Kenny Lofton gave the Bombers a scare in the fourth inning when he fouled a ball into the Yankee dugout. The ball smacked off of Joe Torre's head. I missed the play but looked up and saw Torre on the ground with several guys around him. He was fine and when Lofton returned to the dugout after grounding out, Torre rubbed Lofton's head and let him know that he was OK.
In the sixth, Hank Blalock lead off the inning and narrowly missed a home run, sending Gary Sheffield to the warning track in right field. El Duque grinned like a Cheshire cat and then got Mark Teixeria to fly out to deep center. It was a three-up, three down inning.
Known as a mercurial sort, Hernandez's body language has appeared far lighter, his mood steadily upbeat since he's returned to the Yankees. I suppose winning will do that to you, huh? Jack Curry reports in the Times [the following clip appeared in the print version of the paper today but not in the on-line edition]:
Hernandez was having more fun than anyone else...Hernandez has seemed more comfortable and more affable in his second stint with the Yankees. ALways obsessive about tinkering with his pitching, Hernandez has even been tinkering in the clubhouse. He has routinely dropped to one knee in front of his locker and taken a sock with other socks sutffed inside it and used that as the ball while mimicking his motion.
Hernandez has done this drill even as reporters have stood within five feet of him. He softly exhales as he finishes each imaginary pitch by bending so much that his head is near his knee and his hand almost touches the carpet. It is one more reason he is so distinctive on a team crammed with high-profile stars.
If El Duque has been a surprising success, then Flash Gordon and Mariano Rivera have been excactly what we expected. Gordon worked a perfect eighth inning last night and literally blew the Rangers away, striking out all three men he faced. It didn't seem fair. Rich Lederer agrees, and sent me the following e-mail this morning:
It's time to give Tom Gordon some love...Yankee fans know that Gordon has been part of a highly successful bullpen triumvirate. Most are probably aware that Flash is leading the league in "holds" with 28. However, what they may not know is that Flash is having a historical season in terms of his WHIP ratio (walks plus hits divided by innings). WHIP can also be expressed in terms of baserunners divided by 9 IP.
Baserunners/9 IP Year BR/9 IP
1 Dennis Eckersley 1990 5.52
2 Eric Gagne 2003 6.56
3 Tom Gordon 2004 7.11
3 Billy Wagner 1999 7.11
5 Pedro Martinez 2000 7.22
6 Walter Johnson 1913 7.26
7 Addie Joss 1908 7.31
8 Christy Mathewson 1909 7.45
9 Greg Maddux 1995 7.47
10 Ed Walsh 1910 7.47
* Minimum: 65 IP
(Source: Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia)
Three of the best relief pitchers ever and four of the top ten starting pitchers of all time. I'm not suggesting Gordon is a Hall of Fame caliber pitcher, but it is worth noting that all of the pitchers on the above list who are eligible for the HOF have been enshrined in Cooperstown.
Gordon's erstwhile team defeated the Devil Rays yesterday at Fenway Park. Pedro Martinez threw a complete-game shut-out. The Sox are nine-and-a-half games behind the Yankees. Finally, here is a follow-up on Derek Jeter's run-in with Angel Hernandez on Wednesday night, via the Post.