He pitched like a man with a death wish. He is good enough to get away with it.
Florida's remarkable Cuban refugee moved the Marlins to within one win of baseball's championship with an erratic and yet extraordinary 8-7 victory in the fifth game of the World Series. He threw 142 pitches toward the general vicinity of home plate, working into the ninth inning and onto the rolls of amazing October outings.
It was Hernandez's second series victory over Cleveland ace Orel Hershiser, and the second time he had won without really dominating the Indians. When Hernandez wasn't throwing bullets, he was dodging them.
''I just thought he was outstanding,'' said Marlins manager Jim Leyland. ''I don't think anybody realizes what an outstanding lineup that is, and I just thought he did a remarkable job.''
Hernandez stopped Cleveland without a run in the first inning, the first time the Marlins had managed that feat in the series. But he soon squandered a 2-0 lead, and set himself up as the fall guy in Sandy Alomar's latest grab for glory.
Jim Thome tripled with one out in Cleveland's second inning, and scored on Alomar's subsequent single. Before Hernandez could find his way out of the inning, he filled the bases with walks to Brian Giles and Bip Roberts.
Omar Vizquel provided Hernandez an escape route with a fly ball out to center field. Still, Hernandez slammed his glove down when he reached the dugout, worrying Leyland that his pitcher might self-destruct.
''I knew I didn't want to go to my bullpen early,'' Leyland said. ''There was one other time he got a little frustrated and consequently didn't pitch very well. I had (pitching coach) Larry Rothschild and every Spanish-speaking guy I had on the team talk to him. I don't know which one of them it was, but one of them hit home.''
Fernandez lends a hand
Alex Fernandez, unable to pitch because of a rotator cuff tear, earned his World Series share with calming words.
''He said to take it easy,'' Hernandez said, through an interpreter. ''To take it slow, to calm myself down, that there was still a lot of baseball to be played and we were going to win the game.''
If this settled Hernandez down, it was not immediately evident. With two men out in the Cleveland third inning, Hernandez walked both Matt Williams and Jim Thome to bring Alomar back to the plate. The first pitch to Alomar was called a ball, and the next one landed deep in the left-field bleachers. In one swing, Cleveland moved from one run behind to two runs ahead.
Perhaps some other ballplayer has known as many magical moments in the space of one season as Alomar, but the first ones who come to mind are from fiction. But as much as Alomar has conjured Joe Hardy and Roy Hobbs this October, his heroics Thursday were a little too early.
Hershiser could not hold the lead, and his successors were strafed. Moises Alou's three-run home run in the sixth inning put Florida back in front, and the Marlins' lead reached 8-4 before Cleveland's three-run comeback in the ninth inning.
''I think when Alou hit that home run, it gave a boost to Hernandez,'' said Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove. ''He started throwing a lot more breaking balls as the night went on and started throwing them a lot more for strikes.''
Hernandez' last five full innings were scoreless, and he might have been able to finish the game except for a missed call at first base by umpire Ken Kaiser. Given his shaky start, and his dubious control, a near-complete game was still pretty amazing.
''I don't really have a prototype long reliever,'' Leyland explained. ''And I thought this kid was tough. He's one of our best. And you have to stay with your best.''
COMPLETE WORLD SERIES COVERAGE FROM ASSOCIATED PRESS