Hernandez's postseason pitch takes a hit

October 23, 2002|By LAURA VECSEY

SAN FRANCISCO - The Legend of Undefeated Livan took a major hit last night. Make that five hits and a disastrous knockout punch. The San Francisco Giants have to hope now that starting pitcher Livan Hernandez's rapidly falling postseason star is not theirs, too. A 10-4 drubbing at the hands of the Anaheim Angels last night in Game 3 of this World Series was more bone-chilling than the Bay area weather. Not good.

As for TV ratings for this already suffering all-California affair, the Fox people must have been cursing the Disney people far more than usual last night.

When the Disney-owned Angels busted open Game 3 by taking an 8-1 lead after the top of the fourth inning, the Nielsen meter must have dropped faster than the barometer measuring the Bay area's nippy, marine clime.

Good thing another Sopranos rerun wasn't on the tube last night, otherwise the remote-controlled exodus from this World Series dud would have caused a virtual stampede that left no one to see that the Angels won so easily, flame-throwing closer Troy Percival was never needed.

Maybe baseball can dream that at least a few dedicated souls east of here hung with the game past the Angels' relentless and decisive opening blows. That was the only way anyone would have seen the big man - and we do mean THE BIG MAN - step up to the plate and wallop yet another epic home run.

This time, Barry Bonds connected like 150 volts on an electric two-run shot. In the bottom of the fifth, with Jeff Kent on first, Bonds skied a 1-1 offering from Angels starting pitcher Ramon Ortiz into the heavy marine air that hung over drizzly Pacific Bell Park. Some grass grew and necks were strained before the white orb re-entered the atmosphere and landed over the fence in straight-away center field 437 feet away.

Of course, that was a mere chip shot for The Big Man, at least when you consider that the 485-foot rocket Bonds cranked out of Edison International Field in the ninth inning of Game 2 has already been committed to the grand and hyperbolic annals of baseball legend.

People are talking about Bonds' second World Series homer with the same sort of spooky reverence and disbelief as they talk about the Loch Ness monster or the Shroud of Turin. Did we really see what we saw?

Now Bonds has connected for three merciless, quick-strike homers, becoming the second player (after Hank Bauer of the 1958 Yankees) to homer in the first three games of a World Series and the first to do so in his first three Series games.

No matter how awe-inspiring Bonds' homers are, however, the Giants are hurting. They matched the Angels' scrappiness in the Game 2 slugfest before losing, 11-10. Otherwise, the Giants are going to have to dig down and start matching the Angels from all other spots in the order, since Bonds has been rendered powerless to inflict little more than psychological damage against the Angels.

"Barry's doing his thing. He's doing what he's capable of doing. Now we need to get some other guys in on the hit parade," Giants manager Dusty Baker said. "This is a mirror image of the first two series. We got off with a win and then went down 1-2, we need to turn this around."

Last night, Hernandez was in trouble early but escaped a bases-loaded jam in the second inning when, after intentionally walking catcher Bengie Molina, Hernandez struck out pitcher Ortiz.

But the third inning proved even worse for Hernandez, who gave up four runs, three of them earned. He walked leadoff hitter David Eckstein, then gave up a double to Darin Erstad. An error by third baseman David Bell on a high hopper by Tim Salmon allowed Eckstein to score. Erstad came home on a single by the Angels' hard-hitting Troy Glaus, then Salmon and Glaus scored on a triple by Scott Spiezio to give the Angels a 4-1 lead.

In the fourth, Erstad singled and Salmon walked, then both advanced on a double steal. Erstad scored on a groundout to first by left fielder Garret Anderson, pushing the Angels' lead to 5-1. That was all for Hernandez, who was lifted for Jay Witasick, who gave up three more hits to put the Angels ahead 8-1.

"Last two games guys usually who go deep into the game, they don't get there," Baker said.

"Livan started off excellent, but then in the second their leadoff guy gets on and they started hitting. Anytime in the third and fourth innings when you get a pair of fours like that it makes it very tough."

Hernandez, who was 12-16 during the regular season, would be the scheduled starter for Game 7 - if it gets that far. There was a rush to write off his regular-season record and focus on his postseason prowess. That's harder to do now that his ERA was 12.27 last night for his 3 2/3 innings.

The Cuban immigrant had been the closest thing to a sure win for this Giants' staff that lacks a bona-fide ace, even though he was in trouble during his NLCS start against the Cardinals. He wound up with a no decision in that start, preserving his 6-0 postseason record, which rated him one of the best.

However, a closer examination of the stats shows there's been a hint of smoke and mirrors involved in Hernandez's postseason luster. Despite a 2.84 postseason ERA, Hernandez has always been hittable. In 1997, when he notched wins in both World Series starts and led the Florida Marlins to Major League Baseball's first wild-card championship, Hernandez gave up nine runs on 15 hits, including three homers.

Baker said he didn't want to think that the cold weather was at the root of Hernandez's problems.

"I don't think so. We're used to cold weather here, although Livan likes the hot weather, being from Miami and Cuba," Baker said.

But if it wasn't the cold weather last night that knocked Hernandez out, then it was something a lot worse for the Giants. That would be the Angels and their wild, postseason hit parade.

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