Remembering the great ‘El Duque’

A video recently surfaced on TMZ of former Yankee-great Orlando ‘El Duque’ Hernandez flipping-out and being ejected from his son’s youth baseball game.  You can watch the video here.  The quality isn’t great but one thing is clear, El Duque hasn’t lost any of the fire that made him such a clutch pitcher for the Yankees in the late ‘90s and early 2000s.

El Duque’s unique leg-kick was his trademark.

El Duque’s Major League career started off with a bang when he defected from Cuba at age 28 (this number is highly questionable… the official MLB site shows his birth year as 1969, despite the evidence to prove it is really 1965.  Nevertheless, he never seemed to age).

From the very beginning El Duque relished the big game.  His playoff numbers speak for themselves; he’s 9-3 with a 2.55 ERA in 19 games pitched between the Yankees and White Sox.  He was on four World Series championship teams (3 with the Yanks, 1 with the White Sox) and I don’t think that is a coincidence.  Pressure never seemed to get to Duque, and this was never more evident than in his first ever postseason start in ‘98.  The Yankees, who were heavily favored in the ALCS against Cleveland after winning 114 regular season games, were trailing the series 2-1 and coming off bad losses in games 2 and 3.  El Duque, a relative unknown at the time, pitched seven scoreless innings allowing just three hits to a great Cleveland lineup that featured Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, David Justice, Kenny Lofton, and Omar Vizquel.  (Fun fact: the losing pitcher for Cleveland in that game was Dwight Gooden).  Game 4 was no doubt the turning point for the Yankees who would not lose another game en-route to a World Series championship.

It wasn’t until the 2000 World Series before El Duque lost a playoff start.  Despite losing a close Game 3 against the Mets, the Yankees still won the series 4 games to 1, capping off their third consecutive championship.

Before being traded to Montreal in 2003, Hernandez had some other memorable (and more light-hearted) moments in pinstripes.  You may remember the famous “glove throw,” that proved El Duque’s leg-kick wasn’t the only creative aspect to his game.

Hernandez seen throwing his glove to first baseman Tino Martinez after a come-backer was stuck in the webbing.

The following year, after the starting staff lost Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens to Houston, and David Wells to San Diego, the Yankees took a chance and resigned El Duque who was still recovering from rotator cuff surgery.  Hernandez returned to his old self once healthy, going 8-2 with a 3.30 ERA in 15 regular-season starts.  Unfortunately for the Yankees he was not healthy in October, only appearing once in the 2004 ALCS.  Many forget that it was due to his injury that the Yankees were forced to search for pitching in the ’04 playoffs – trotting out the likes of Kevin Brown and Esteban Loaiza in crucial games.

2004 was the final year for Hernandez as a Yankee, but his career was not close to being over.  The next year he was on yet another championship team with the White Sox, and then continued to pitch in the majors until 2007.  After bouncing around the Rangers and Nationals minor league teams he officially announced his retirement in 2011 at the age of 40-something.

To this day El Duque has remained a Yankees legend and fan favorite.  His postseason greatness, intensity on the mound, and giant leg-kick will always be associated with the Yankees dynasty and something that Yankees fans who lived throughout the ‘90s and 2000s will remember forever.

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