The Cuban right-hander with the deceptive delivery reintroduced
himself to the Yankees on Sunday, pitching New York to a 10-3
victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and a four-game sweep.
"He looked like his old self. It was like he's never been
away," teammate Derek Jeter said. "He's tough on hitters, a lot
of arm angles and stuff, changing speeds. He did exactly what we
needed him to do."
Making a surprise start in place of an ailing Mike Mussina,
Hernandez (1-0) held the Devil Rays to two runs and five hits over
five innings in his first major league appearance since 2002. He
struck out five and walked three, throwing 51 of his 88 pitches for
"I didn't find out until I got to the field today. I didn't
even know they had him still," Tampa Bay's Aubrey Huff said.
Socks pulled high, knee kicking all the way to his chin, El
Duque even flashed some of his old magic, tossing up a near-eephus
pitch to Toby Hall in the second inning and getting him on a soft
fly to left.
It was far from a dominating performance -- but not bad for a guy
who missed last season due to shoulder surgery. He earned his first
major league win since Sept. 5, 2002, against Detroit.
"This is exactly what I've been looking to, to get back here
and see my teammates and the great fans here," Hernandez said
through a translator. "I want to return to the form where I can
throw 100-120 pitches without tiring."
It was a satisfying day all around for the Yankees -- Sheffield
hit a long homer off Danys Baez four pitches after the right-hander
sent him sprawling to the dirt with a high-and-tight pitch.
Sheffield stood near the plate to watch the ball sail over the
left-center fence in the eighth, making it 10-3.
"As a hitter, the ultimate revenge is to get a hit or a home
run," Sheffield said. "Yeah, I was thinking home run. I got
knocked down, I can swing as hard as I want now."
Huff homered and Hall had three hits and two RBI for the Devil
Rays, who scored only 11 runs in the series. The Yankees have won
18 of their last 22 against Tampa Bay.
Felix Heredia gave up one run in 2 2/3 solid innings of relief,
and Sam Marsonek finished it with 1 1/3 scoreless innings in his
major league debut.
Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella declined to speak to reporters
after the game.
The Yankees headed into the All-Star break with the best record
in baseball at 55-31 and a seven-game lead over Boston in the AL
East. They got a warm ovation from the crowd of 53,383 as they
walked off the field after the win.
And New York fans will see more of Hernandez, who earned at
least one more start.
"He's in our plans for the last half," manager Joe Torre said.
"I still think he needs to get some arm strength back. But he
knows how to pitch."
Posada hit a long homer into the Yankees' bullpen in left-center
in the second inning, just his second since June 1.
The Yankees got six consecutive two-out hits in the third off
former NBA player Mark Hendrickson (6-7) to take a 5-0 lead.
Matsui and Sheffield each finished with three of New York's 15
"Everybody knows it's the best lineup in baseball. If you make
a mistake, you're going to be in trouble," Baez said.
Mussina has a sore elbow, so Hernandez was scratched from his
scheduled rehabilitation start Saturday for Triple-A Columbus to
enable him to travel to New York.
Hernandez, believed to be 38, spent last year on Montreal's
disabled list after getting hurt in spring training.
The right-hander had shoulder surgery in May 2003 to repair a
small tear in his rotator cuff. He returned to the Yankees in
March, signing a $500,000, one-year contract.
After defecting from Cuba, Hernandez joined the Yankees for the
1998 season and helped them to three straight World Series titles
and four AL pennants in five years. He went 9-3 with a 2.51 ERA in
the postseason, winning the 1999 AL championship series MVP Award.
"He had good mound presence out there today," pitching coach
Mel Stottlemyre said. "He looked like the old Duque to me. I think
he was a little nervous at the start."
Posada smacked hard into the padded railing in front of Tampa
Bay's dugout while chasing a foul popup in the third. He came out
following his RBI single in the bottom of the inning, and X-rays
Hernandez improved to 9-3 lifetime against Tampa Bay. ...
The Devil Rays have lost seven of nine.