Livan's experience looms large
In hotly contested NLCS, vet could give D-backs an edge
PHOENIX -- The big man. The big game.
Diamondbacks pitcher Livan Hernandez is back on center stage, this time wearing a Sedona Red and Sonoran Sand uniform.
"I am lucky that I have played with good teams and I have been able to make it to the playoffs," said the 6-foot-2 Hernandez, who is listed at 245 pounds. "I know what happens in the playoffs, and that is that one run can be the difference. It is important to make some runs and save some runs. You never see a 14-0 playoff game or a 10-0 game. Every game is close."
Livo, 32, as he is affectionately known in baseball, will be playing in his third National League Championship Series when his Diamondbacks take the field Thursday in Game 1 of against the Rockies. Hernandez is scheduled to take the mound in Game 3 in Colorado.
"We want it, they want it," Hernandez said. "Whoever plays the best is going to win. I'm ready right now."
Hernandez is confident. He has a history on his side.
He limited the Cubs to one run and five hits during six innings for the victory in Game 3 of the National League Division Series to complete the sweep in the first round of the postseason Saturday, marking just the latest postseason gem in his career. The playoffs have always seemed to bring out the best in him.
For his career, he is 7-2 with a 3.75 ERA in 11 appearances (nine starts) in the postseason with the Marlins (1997), Giants (2000, 2002) and the Diamondbacks.
He was the NLCS Most Valuable Player and later the World Series MVP in 1997 while with the Marlins. He also went 0-0 with a 2.84 ERA with the Giants during the 2002 NLCS and 0-2 during the World Series that season.
Hernandez went 11-11 with a 4.93 ERA during the 2007 regular season for the Diamondbacks,
"His role is the same as it has always been here," Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin said. "He's a leader and a sounding board for the guys, especially now that we are in the playoffs."
Diamondbacks closer Jose Valverde considers himself among Hernandez's unofficial pupils this season. If Valverde has a pitching question, he usually goes to Hernandez first. It helps that they both speak the same two languages -- baseball and Spanish.
"He always advises, and the things he notices are good," Valverde said. "I remember him telling me that when my energy goes down, I don't throw strikes. I realized he was right. Now I concentrate a lot more when I am tired. To play with a person like that is great. Everybody wants to have a person like that on your team."
Hernandez accepts his role as a team leader, especially among the Latin players, with pride. He said his prior experience in the postseason helps him keep a cool head, and realizing what is at stake each pitch is an important part of being a success in the playoffs. He believes sharing his knowledge is part of his duty as a teammate.
Hernandez scoffs at the notion of feeling the playoff pressure. Real pressure, he says, is living in Cuba and struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis. He defected from the island in 1995.
"For me, it's been unbelievable, an experience I will never forget," said Hernandez's personal catcher, Miguel Montero. "Where he comes from and what he's done in the game ... honestly, at the beginning of the season, I felt some pressure and so anxious working with him because I didn't know what he liked to throw and how he worked. He has made it easy on me."
A competitor on the field but easygoing off it, Hernandez believes keeping things in perspective is one of his biggest attributes. In the big picture, the NLCS represents just another series of baseball games to him. A really important set of games, he concedes.
"This is different than regular baseball, and if somebody says it is not, they are wrong," Hernandez said. "Everything costs in the playoffs. It's not one of those things that you fail one day and you can fix the next day. The next day you could be home. There is no more regular season to fix it. You could lose one game and it's [all] over. One mistake you make or one play you make is the difference."
The difference for Hernandez is his experience. He knows it. So do his teammates.
"I remember watching him back in the World Series back in '97, and he's still the same guy, throwing strikes and getting batters to hit his pitch," Diamondbacks third baseman Mark Reynolds said. "He's fun to play behind because you know you are going to get action and they put the ball in play. It's great to be behind someone who has that much experience."
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.