MIAMI -- Viva, Livan.
That was the rallying cry over South Florida today after rookie Livan Hernandez provided the rescue needed by the Florida Marlins' beleaguered pitching staff.
The rookie who defected from the Cuban national team out-dueled Greg Maddux with a three-hitter and the Marlins regained the lead in the National League Championship Series with a 2-1 victory over the defending champion Atlanta Braves.
With the aid of the liberal strike zone of plate umpire Eric Gregg, Hernandez struck out a career-high 15 Braves and equaled the LCS record.
A second-inning, wind-aided home run by Michael Tucker ruined his shutout before Hernandez went on to retire 15 straight batters until he walked Kenny Lofton with two outs in the eighth.
He finished by striking out Fred McGriff to ignite a raucous celebration by the Marlins, who take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-five series to Georgia, where the series resumes tomorrow night.
Through an interpreter, Hernandez, 22, said he learned he would be replacing Kevin Brown after Saturday night's 4-0 loss to the Braves and Denny Neagle.
"I was able to prepare myself mentally, get some sleep and get ready," he said. "Greg Maddux is one of the three best pitchers in baseball. I knew it was going to be a close, low-scoring game."
Hernandez threw a whopping 143 pitches and might have been removed in the bottom of the eighth (he had 128 at the time) after Craig Counsell led off with a single against Mike Cather.
But Leyland left him in to lay down the predictable sacrifice bunt and brought him to the mound again to finish.
"There were 50,000 people here and I didn't want to get snipered," said Leyland.
Hernandez withstood a serious Braves threat in the first inning when Lofton tripled and Keith Lockhart walked with none out.
But, in order, he struck out Chipper Jones, McGriff and Ryan Klesko and "was very important at that time. It prevented a run from scoring," said Hernandez.
It was also important that Charles Johnson threw out Lofton attempting to steal with two out in the eighth to extinguish the final Atlanta hope.
The pivotal play offensively came in the seventh when Bobby Bonilla (who emerged from a slump with three hits) drove a hard shot toward the right-field wall.
Michael Tucker retreated and had the ball, ice-cream cone style, in his glove. Then, Tucker hit the wall hard and ball and contact lens went flying.
"I came down with the ball, but when I hit the wall, it jarred one of my contacts loose. I had the ball caught," said Tucker.
After a lengthy delay while Tucker searched for a substitute contact lens on the field and in the clubhouse, Andruw Jones replaced him.
Maddux said he wasn't perturbed by the wait, but when play resumed Jeff Conine singled up the middle to score Bonilla with the winning run.
"Standing at second base [he advanced on the throw] and watching the crowd go crazy was one of my best moments in baseball," said Conine, Mr. Marlin, one of the original players of this franchise.
Conine said he was trying to hit the ball to the right side to move the runner to third with one out, but "I waited as long as I could onthat ball and it went up the middle."
The Marlins' other run came in the first inning when Devon White was hit by a pitch and eventually scored on a Bonilla single.
Both Maddux and manager Bobby Cox were less than pleased with White's at-bat.
"I thought you were supposed to give some effort to get out of the way," said Maddux. "It looked to me like he leaned into it.
"He [Gregg] said it just hit him," said Cox. "I thought he moved his leg into the ball."
Hernandez, who almost signed with the Braves, won his first nine games for Florida, then went winless after Aug. 31.
He pitched 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief in Game 3 of this series, which the Marlins won, 5-2, for Tony Saunders (Glen Burnie).
Yesterday, he lived on the outside of the plate, a factor that also helped Maddux, who had nine strikeouts.
Altogether, the 25 whiffs were a championship series record.
"My pitches were being thrown for strikes," said Hernandez. "I had good control of my breaking ball. For that reason, I started on the corners. It was a good strike zone."
"I tip my hat to Livan. He stayed out there," said Cox. "He had one heck of a day with his control."
Pub Date: 10/13/97