Friday, May 01, 2009


It was almost lost in the euphoria of Matt Garza's six perfect innings during Tampa Bay's 13-0 thrashing of the Boston Red Sox Thursday night, getting only brief mention from the mainstream media. But Garza's batterymate, Michel Hernandez, had a career night with four hits in addition to putting down the right fingers on the call of every pitch.

Hernandez's story is an intriguing one, even without last night's heroics, starting with his escape from his native Cuba 13 years ago when he left his country's baseball team in Mexico City and continuing through the need to drop into the Independent ranks (Somerset, NJ of the Atlantic League) for a time in 2007 before getting back to an affiliated league.

Hernandez, 30, has been a professional in the United States since 1998 when the New York Yankees gave him a minor league opportunity. Still, he had only one hit in four at-bats over five games with the parent Yankees in 2003. An injury to Tampa Bay backup Shawn Riggans opened the door late last season, and Hernandez stepped in, going 3-for-15 in five games for the Rays, then being eligible but not getting into a single postseason game during their magical run to the World Series.

With Riggans disabled with shoulder tendinitis early this April, the affable Hernandez was summoned and he had gone 2-for-9 in three appearances prior to last night. Think about this career major league line prior to last night: 13 games, 6-for-28 (.214) with every hit a single and zero career runs batted in.

Josh Beckett, Boston's ace and one of the game's best, was Garza's mound opponent Thursday.

This is what Hernandez did: He went 4-for-5 with two singles, plus his first career double, and his first career home run and his first three career RBI. "How about that", the late Mel Allen would have screamed into the microphone.

The Rays' catcher was 2-for-3 off Beckett, including a fourth inning homer and a fifth inning single that ended the Boston starter's night.

What a feeling it had to be to go home to Tampa to wife Marta and young son Michael, who has to continually battle diabetes.

Riggans hopes to be back within the next 10 days, but even if Hernandez lands back at Triple-A Durham, NC he will have this latest wonderful memory. It may be just as good as the feel of that World Series ring on his finger.

DI FELICE DOES IT, AGAIN--I had just written in Thursday's subscriber-only Independent Baseball Insider column what a wonderful start former Atlantic Leaguer Mark DiFelice is off to in the Milwaukee bullpen. Along with starters Scott Richmond of Toronto and Chris Jakubauskas of Seattle, they are making Independent Baseball look mighty good. DiFelice was called upon again in the seventh inning as the Brewers were trying to stay within a 1-0 deficit of Arizona. He got the final two outs of the inning to lower his ERA to 0.77, then Milwaukee rallied for four runs in the bottom of the inning to spoil the effort of still another Indy league grad, the D-Backs' Max Scherzer, and the onetime Somerset and Camden, NJ righty has a 3-0 career major league record (two wins this season). Scherzer's six scoreless innings in his no-decision game lowered the former Fort Worth (TX) Cats (American Association) hurler's ERA to a solid 3.48.

Bob Wirz

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