El Duque says he can pitch if Mets reach Series

ST. LOUIS -- If the New York Mets reach the World Series,
they might get a major boost on the mound from Orlando Hernandez.

Sidelined by a torn muscle in his right calf, El Duque threw 72
pitches during an encouraging bullpen session Sunday and could be
back in time for the Fall Classic if New York gets past the
St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Championship Series.

"It's certainly a possibility, absolutely," pitching coach
Rick Peterson said Monday. "Felt great, no discomfort, threw the
ball well, commanded his pitches well. He's been throwing all along
-- very gingerly because of the leg, but he feels great."

El Duque was scheduled to start New York's Division Series
opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers until he hurt a calf while
jogging in the outfield the day before Game 1. At that point, he
was expected to miss the entire postseason.

The Mets also are without injured pitcher Pedro Martinez, so
they've been scrambling to find reliable starters in the playoffs,
and Hernandez acknowledged it's been extremely difficult to sit
back and watch knowing he was unable to help.

But the right-hander, a postseason stalwart throughout his big
league career, was excited and surprised by how quickly his leg has

"Now I can dance," a cheerful El Duque said. "I threw every
pitch. I think I'm ready for next week."

The crafty Hernandez was acquired from Arizona in May and has a
ton of October experience. He is 9-3 with a 2.55 ERA in 19 career
postseason games, including 14 starts, mostly with the Yankees. He
also owns four World Series rings, and his teams are 12-3 in
postseason series.

So if the Mets advance to play the Detroit Tigers in the World
Series, could manager Willie Randolph count on El Duque to start in
Game 1?

"Willie give, I take," Hernandez said.