Orlando Hernandez has officially retired.
Other Yankees have been around longer. Other Yankees contributed more to the last dynasty. And certainly, many other Yankees were consistently better. But El Duque is one of the first guys I think of from that era. As a morbidly pessimisstic fan in those days (I think I’ve evolved past the morbid part in the intevening decade), no other starter inspired security like El Duque.
I’ll never forget the first inning of the 1999 ALDS against the powerful Rangers lineup. Pudge doubled with one out and El Duque faced the heavy hitters. He gave the lefties Greer and Palmeiro nothing at all and walked them both to load the bases. But the righties Gonzalez and Zeile he attacked with his full arsenal and exploited their aggression with ever-widening sliders until he had them fishing for pitches a foot outside.
And if there was a more crucial postseason game in the three-peat than his his ballsy victory in Cleveland in Game Four of the 1998 ALCS, I don’t know if I want to remember.
His pitching style was unforgettable and almost impossible to replicate on the stick-ball blacktop, though it didn’t stop us from straining our gluts giving it a try. His feisty confidence was refreshing and his arguments with Posada during mound visits were always entertaining.
When he walked those Texas lefties, there was no doubt it was part of a master plan. Perhaps that plan was a little foolish and left too little margin for error, but I don’t think El Duque ever worried that it wouldn’t work. And watching at home, I wasn’t worried either, which is probably why he was my favorite starter.
The Yankees had two players during the most recent dynasty who delivered performances vastly better than their career statistics would have you believe was possible. The great Mariano and El Duque. Mariano went from Hall of Famer to statistical impossibilty in the Postseason and El Duque, a quality middle-of-the-rotation arm, turned into Bob Gibson.
His baseball-reference page will have my kids wonder what all the fuss was about. I can’t wait to tell them.