|08-19-2001, 09:15 AM||#1|
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: NetShrine WHQ
Imagine What He'd Do In Coors
August 19, 2:58 AM ET
Livan's been a Giant at the plate
By Jayson Stark
We all know it's nothing new this year for a San Francisco Giant to make headlines with his bat.
But the Giant we're all worked up about this week does not wear No. 25, dangle two-inch earrings from his ear lobe or claim any relation whatsoever to Willie Mays.
Yes, after the show Giants pitcher Livan Hernandez has put on lately -- in the batter's box, that is -- the only question we can ask is: Barry who?
Heading into his start Friday night against the Braves, Hernandez was working on the greatest offensive reign of terror by a pitcher in at least the past quarter-century. He was 8 for his last 8. He was 12 for his last 13.
So that means he's now had as many 8-for-8 streaks in his career as Tony Gwynn. Sheez. How absurd is that?
But that's not all. Hernandez also was working on a streak of four consecutive multihit games -- something Jason Giambi hasn't done this year.
And he'd gotten at least three hits in three of his last four games -- something Larry Walker hasn't done this year.
And he was coming off a 4-for-4 game last Saturday at Wrigley Field that included hits off four different pitchers. So that gives the amazing Livan more four-hit games this year than Rafael Palmeiro, Brian Giles or Carlos Delgado, among about a million others.
"Basically," Giants hitting coach Gene Clines told Week in Review, "we're asking: `Who is this guy?'"
Well, it's not as if Hernandez had never gotten a hit before this year. He's a .251 career hitter, which is the highest lifetime average of any active National League pitcher. In fact, it's a higher lifetime average than three of his four catchers the last two years (.186 hitter Edwards Guzman, .224 hitter Bobby Estalella and .230 hitter Doug Mirabelli).
But 8-for-8? And 12-for-13? That's ridiculous.
"Yeah, it is ridiculous. That's what we all want to say," Giants pitcher Kirk Rueter told Week in Review. "Except he's 12-for-13. So it's hard to say anything."
And it's especially tough for Rueter to say anything -- because he's mixed up in a regrettable little bet with Hernandez over who's going to get the most hits this season.
"I think it's safe to say," Rueter said, sadly, "that it's not much of a bet right now."
No kidding. Hernandez versus Bonds might be a better bet the way Livan is going.
But it actually isn't even Rueter's bet -- fortunately. During batting practice one day, reliever Felix Rodriguez was trying to give Hernandez a hard time and decided to bet that Rueter (a respectable .156 lifetime hitter) could get more hits than his pal, Livan.
Except that they decided Rueter deserved some kind of handicap. So the bet wound up being that Hernandez would get twice as many hits as Rueter would.
Well, it seemed like a brilliant idea at the time.
"We actually had the same number of hits a little while ago," Rueter said. "But that 12-for-13 barrage kind of put me in the hole."
Amazingly, though, that hole was not the size of the Grand Canyon. Going into the weekend, Rueter was 9-for-45 at the plate this year, and Hernandez was 20-for-60. So it's closer than anyone would have believed. But to keep it close, Rueter has had to go 5 for his last 7 himself.
"Yeah, but I just make contact," Rueter said. "I get, like, infield hits. I even bunted once. He gets good hits. He hit a home run Saturday, so I can't even say they're a fluke."
And Hernandez wouldn't let him, anyway. After every hit, if you look closely, you'll see Hernandez peering into the dugout, trying to find Rueter.
"He does. He looks in there," Rueter said. "He wants to make sure I know he got a hit. Then he'll come in and tell me how many more hits I need. Saturday, he said, `I got 4.' I said, `That's OK. You got four. I only need to get two.'"
But at the rate Hernandez is going, it's two every game. And for a fellow pitcher, that's more pressure than trying to pitch a shutout every time out.
"I'm trying," Rueter moaned. "That's why I pulled my hamstring Sunday -- trying to leg one out."
But if he thinks this is getting embarrassing for the other pitchers, how about the Giants' hitters?
After Bonds hit his 50th home run Saturday earlier than any player in history, guess which Giant got the commemorative lineup card from manager Dusty Baker? Hernandez. Of course.
So what, you may be wondering, did Bonds get?
"A `Way to go,'" Baker said. "And a `Keep it going.'"
"After Dusty took Livan out of the game," Clines said, "Eric Davis had to pinch-hit for him, after he got four hits. Eric said, `Hey, what do you want me to do? How am I supposed to follow that act?'"
Hmmm. Good question. For the entire sport.
Clines used to think his biggest claim to fame as a player was the year the Pirates called him up for the first time, in 1970, and he hit .405 in September. He went 15 for 37 for the month. Now one of his pitchers has just gotten 12 hits in four games.
"I thought I was hot," Clines chuckled. "That's a bunt compared to what he's doing."
If there's one Giant who could claim not to be impressed by all this, it's Bonds. But after that 4-for-4 game, even he accused Hernandez of "embarrassing all of us" -- and announced: "Livan's our hitting coach now."
That appointment came as news to Clines. But that doesn't mean he was altogether opposed to the concept.
"He can have this job," Clines said. "But the more I think about it, Barry may have a point. If he keeps getting hits like this, I may have to talk to him. First thing I'll ask is: `What's the secret?'"
And if he could just take that secret and bottle it?
"I wouldn't be here right now," Clines said. "I'll tell you that. I'd be in the Bahamas -- taking it easy."
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