Let’s get it out of the way right up top: I am using Livan Hernandez’s officially registered birthdate of February 20, 1975. Like many players from Cuba or other places in Latin America, there has been some debate about whether Livan is really older than this – but “unknown” doesn’t really fit with celebrating a birthday, so I’m going to use the fact-ish that Livan was born in Villa Clara, Cuba on February 20, 1975.
At the age of 20, in 1995, Livan defected to the US through Mexico and was signed by the Florida Marlins as a free agent. His half-brother, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez would follow two years later.
In his 17 years in the majors, Livan pitched for 10 different teams (if we count the Expos and Nationals as two different teams, which we do) and was known as a rubber-arm innings-eater. In the prime years of his career, from 1998 through 2007, he never pitched less than 199 innings – with one “soft” year at 199 2/3 ruining the more fun stat of not less than 200 innings. Much of that durability was due to his sinker and his famous 60-ish MPH huge curveball that made many batters look silly. The curveball is highlighted in this video clip put together by the Nationals to celebrate their premiere in Washington, which Hernandez started and won over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
He made his debut on September 24, 1996 for the Marlins, with a three inning relief appearance against the Atlanta Braves. He held them scoreless in his three innings of a 12-1 Marlins victory with 2 strikeouts. His first career strikeout victim was Dwight Smith.
In his true rookie year of 1997, Hernandez became a star. During his “age 22” *wink* season, he spent half the year at AA and AAA but performed so well in his half-season with the big club that he came in second in Rookie of the Year voting to Scott Rolen. His debut that year was starting the second game of a doubleheader against the Yankees (and Dwight Gooden – more on this later) on June 15. Hernandez struck out 6 over 5 innings and got a no-decision in the Marlins’ victory. Thus began a career that ended with 5.6 SO/9.
It was during the Marlins’ postseason run in 1997 that Livan Hernandez really became a star. During the NLCS, Hernandez beat the Braves in games 3 and 5. This includes a complete game victory in game 5 featuring a (since broken) postseason record 15 strikeouts. In the World Series, Hernandez won games 1 and 5. In both the NLCS and the World Series, he was voted the MVP.
From that point, Hernandez traveled around MLB, throwing that curve, striking guys out, and wearing his baggy baseball pants. He pitched again in the World Series for the Giants in 2002 and the postseason for the Diamondbacks in 2007.
As we said at the top, today we wish Livan Hernandez a happy birthday as he was “born” *wink* on February 20, 1975. Livan Hernandez also ended his career with 1,976 strikeouts – currently 85th on the career list. 1,976 career strikeouts does not match up with his “birth” year of 1975. But I need my baseball numerology to work and I found a loophole. Way back in his first start against the Yankees on June 15, 1997 Hernandez struck out his opposite number Dwight Gooden twice. The first was a swinging strike in the top of the second and the second was a foul bunt pop up caught by catcher Gregg Zaun in the top of the fourth. And everybody knows that foul pop ups by Doc Gooden don’t count officially as strikeouts. So we remove that one from the career total and Livan Hernandez’s career strikeout total is 1,975 matching his “birth” *wink* year of 1975 and my numerology is satisfied.
1. Baseball-reference player page: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/h/hernali01.shtml
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