Wednesday, June 22, 2011
TTM Blast from the Past: El Duque
One of my favorite all-time Yankee pitchers is Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez. I'm sure most of us are familiar with his story and how he defected from Cuba in an inflatable raft in shark-infested waters. You can't make this stuff up. I remember being incredibly excited for his first ML start in 1998 and how unconventional his delivery was. I'll never forget how he joined the 1998 Yankees mid-year and fit seamlessly into the starting rotation, going 12-4 with a 3.13 ERA. He loved the big stage, and actually pitched the most important game of that magical 1998 season - down 2-1 in the ALCS to Cleveland and on the road, he threw seven shutout innings and pitched the Yanks to victory. They wouldn't lose again that postseason.
He had decent years for the Yanks from 1999-2002, again pitching his best ballgames in the playoffs. Before 2003 he was traded to the Expos but never pitched for them due to injury, and returned to the Yankees in 2004 and was arguably their most dominant pitcher down the stretch. He toiled around for a few more years after that with the White Sox and Mets, but I'll always remember him for being a big-game pitcher and vital cog during the Yanks run of three straight World Series championships from 1998-2000.
El Duque signed this card for me c/o Mets ST in 2007. I love how he wrote "Duke" in English under his signature.