'El Duque' Has Come A Long Way


Orlando Hernandez was back in Cuba a year ago, a virtual prisoner in his own country as he watched his half brother Livan pitch the World Series opener.

Sunday night, far from his homeland, "El Duque" will try to give the New York Yankees a 2-0 lead when he starts against San Diego in this year's Series.

"No, I didn't think I'd be here today," he said Saturday. "But yes, I did think of finding a way to one day be here."

Last October, Orlando was earning 206 pesos (about $10) a month. Now, after defecting on a raft with seven others on Dec. 26, he has a $6.6 million, four-year contract and is about to appear in baseball's most intense spotlight, facing Andy Ashby in Game 2.

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  • "El Duque," who went 12-4 with a 3.13 ERA after making his major league debut in June, appears to be taking it calmly, as he did in Game 4 of the AL championship series, when it seemed as if the Yankees' season was starting to spin out of control.

    "He showed me a tremendous calm when at that point in time, down 2-1, playing on the road, was something we needed," Yankees manager Joe Torre said.

    When Livan Hernandez pitched for the Marlins last October, earning the MVP award of the NL championship series and the World Series, it wasn't easy for "El Duque" to watch. With American television not available, he had to go to CNN's studios on the communist island.

    Not that Cubans didn't find out about Livan's exploits.

    "A lot of newspapers get to Cuba," Orlando said. "Radio Marti is a very popular station in Cuba and some people have satellites."

    Ashby, who joined the Padres in 1993, has had a more conventional career. A first-time All-Star, he went 17-9 with a 3.34 ERA, setting a career high with 151 strikeouts in 226 2/3 innings.

    "One of the main things is staying healthy," said Ashby, bothered by arm problems in previous years. "It's been a struggle the last few years, but I think it's made me a better person."

    Ashby appreciates all "El Duque" has gone through.

    "I think it shows you how much desire he has to play major league baseball," Ashby said, "and what it means to him - and not only him but to everyone that put this uniform on."

    Ashby, like most of the Padres, was in awe of Yankee Stadium.

    "Yankee Stadium is something special with all the history," he said. "You go back and look at the monuments, see the type of players, you look back on the things that have happened in this stadium, it's very special."

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