The Streak, Game 2: Livo vs. Beckett
Game 2, June 3
Nationals 3, Marlins 2 (11)
W: Ayala (4-3)
L: Bump (0-3)
Josh Beckett was on the mound that day for Florida, a team Nationals outfielder Brad Wilkerson said was "probably the most talented team in the division." But Washington countered with Livan Hernandez, and at the end of nine innings, Beckett had allowed an RBI triple to Nick Johnson and a run-scoring grounder to Vinny Castilla, and Hernandez had permitted only Juan Encarnacion's two-run single. This was, though, typical Livo. The 150 pitches he threw that day remain the most for any major league pitcher in a single game since 2002, when Randy Johnson also threw that many. The last to throw more: Boston's Tom Gordon, who threw 151 against Baltimore in 1996.
So the victory became typical: In the bottom of the 11th, rookie outfielder Ryan Church sent a shallow fly ball to left, and utility infielder Jamey Carroll scored from third for a walk-off win -- their 12th one-run win of the year -- that, at the time, the Nats felt sent a message. "This is not a fluke," third baseman Vinny Castilla said. "This team is here. It's real."
"You can see the confidence and the swagger in this team right now," Wilkerson said. "We have confidence we can beat anybody."
"What it does, it builds character," Frank Robinson said. "It makes the team stronger and have more confidence in themselves, and they start to believe. When you're having success, and you start to believe, that's a tough combination to beat."
At end of the day: 29-26, third place in NL East, 1/2 game behind 1/2 games behind Florida and Atlanta.
Livan Hernandez might not be the perfect person around which to build a "where-are-they-now" Nats Journal entry, but I was struck a couple of weeks ago -- when I sat down with Hernandez in the home dugout at Nationals Park -- how much he loved that time, and how much it meant to him in what, by now, is a career that has spanned 14 full seasons. Outside Washington, Hernandez is best known for being the MVP of the 1997 World Series for the Florida Marlins. In the District, it's for throwing that first pitch -- a strike to Craig Counsell -- on the night of April 14, 2005.
"World Series is something special," Hernandez said. "This is what we play for. But that moment is a great moment for me and for the other players who played, who made history, who played back in DC, here, where there was no baseball for 33 years."
Hernandez has spoken about that night before, and the memories are still vivid.
"The first day was a little crazy," he said. "President Bush was going to throw the first pitch. I get in the stadium, and I got to get out of my car like three times."
What? Oh, the security for Bush's appearance.
"I remember, I drive the Ferrari that time," he said. "Two times, they put the dog in the top of my car, German shepherds. The security people, I got to open the trunk. I was late because of all that stuff. I get to the stadium like 6:20, 6:15, I get late because of all the stuff, the traffic. It was very nice, though. It's something we never going to forget. It's one of the best moments I have in baseball."
That year was memorable for Hernandez, too. He started 12-2 and made the All-Star team. He threw a league-high 246-1/3 innings. But he, like the rest of the team, sputtered. He lost his last start before the all-star break, and ended up dropping eight of his last 11 decisions as he battled a bad knee.
"I couldn't take it anymore," he said. "I got 12-2 in the first half, and I come from spring training, and all the work I have, it was working. The second half, I take three days off and go to Miami, and that's it. It's over.
"I continue pitching. I feel good. I no feel bad. But it started getting painful. My doctor told me when they did the operation [after the season], it was supposed to finish in 20 minutes, and it take like 55 minutes, because I got a lot of stuff wrong in there. He asked me, 'How did I pitch like that.' And I said, 'Because they asked me for it, and I do it, and I'm happy to do it.'"
The Nationals traded Hernandez for (then) minor-league pitchers Matt Chico and Garrett Mock in August 2006, and the ensuing seasons were a struggle. He gave up a huge home run to Yorvit Torrealba in the NLCS that helped push Colorado past Arizona in 2007, then pitched for Minnesota, Colorado and the Mets, going 37-38 with a 5.28 ERA after his trade to Arizona through the end of last year, by which time Hernandez was back with the Nationals.
"I try to prove that I can still pitch," he said. "The last two years were very [lousy] years. And the people no believe in the stuff I have. And the people don't know how I feel inside. I don't come back for the knee surgery like perfect. So the doctor told me it could be two years, or one year and a half. But it didn't happen. It's taken longer than that."
Now, he believes he is healthy. He may one day be remembered as the first player to truly want to play baseball in the District.
"It's a great town for sport," he said. "It's a great town for baseball. I love to play here. I've had very good years here, and the fans, the city is very nice. And I think you want to come back somewhere, and I want to get the chance here and play here. I feel very good and am very excited to be here, and maybe soon, when I go retire I come back and work in the organization. I would be really happy."
June 3, 2010; 11:30 AM ET
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