One pitch dooms valiant Hernandez
Veteran limits Rockies until surprise fastball in sixth inning
DENVER -- It was a fastball inside. And it was the last pitch Livan Hernandez wanted to throw.
Hernandez would throw 102 pitches in the D-backs' 4-1 loss to the Rockies on Sunday night, but ultimately that outcome all came down to one: pitch No. 98, a fastball inside.
The fact that Hernandez had limited the Rockies to one run in 5 1/3 innings became a moot point. The four Colorado runners he had stranded on the basepaths in the previous two innings became a mere side note.
One pitch defined Hernandez's night. One pitch now has the D-backs staring up at an 0-3 deficit.
"Just one pitch," Hernandez said afterward. "Like I said before, it's the playoffs, and one pitch, you make one mistake, you lose the game."
On this night, that would be cruelly accurate.
That one pitch to Rockies catcher Yorvit Torrealba in the sixth landed in the left-field stands, ran a then-tie game to a crushing three-run deficit and put Arizona in a hole that an anemic offense wouldn't come close to scratching away.
"[He did] just what he does every time," said teammate Eric Byrnes. "He pitched great. It's no fault on him."
The sixth inning started inauspiciously. Hernandez immediately allowed a five-pitch leadoff walk to Todd Helton. The Rockies added a one-out single two hitters later, but Hernandez quickly responded with a strikeout.
Up came Torrealba, the light-hitting Colorado catcher, who had gone deep just eight times during the season. After his third-inning single earlier on a cold evening at Coors Field, he and Hernandez, who are very close friends off the field, joked with each other when Hernandez came to bat in the fifth.
"I know you're going to throw me a slider," Torrealba said. "I know it."
"Yeah, I'm going to throw a slider," Hernandez responded.
A half an inning later, Hernandez stayed true to his word, at least for a few pitches.
Ultimately what set up that soon-to-be-in-the-stands fastball were the six pitches to Torrealba that came before it. Those six pitches included a curveball that registered 58 mph on the radar gun for strike two, as Hernandez ran out to a 1-2 advantage.
"It just made me laugh," Torrealba said of that curve. "It looked more like a softball [pitch]."
Then the battle began. Hernandez tried a high fastball. Torrealba laid off of it. Then came that slider Hernandez had promised. Torrealba's bat didn't budge. A 60-mph curveball was then fouled off into the stands.
So Hernandez decided to try what he really knew he shouldn't.
"I [threw] everything," Hernandez recalled. "I throw a slider, foul. I throw a curveball, foul. I said, 'Let me throw a fastball in,' and Torrealba hit it."
Hernandez wasn't the only one surprised at having to go with a fastball.
"I'm really surprised by the fact that he tried to go inside on me," said Torrealba, who was a teammate of Hernandez's for two years in San Francisco. "I've faced Livan a million times already, and most of the time he goes middle away with either fastballs, sliders, or even curveballs. I was actually looking for something soft middle away. He threw me a fastball inside, and I reacted to it."
Arizona catcher Miguel Montero later referred to that 3-2 pitch as "a good pitch," coming in at the desired location.
Hernandez, however, begged to differ.
"It's never a good pitch when the guy hits a home run," said Hernandez, who now has three losses in 11 career postseason appearances. "When it's a home run, it's not a good pitch."
And with that, one of the gutsiest postseason pitchers of the last decade would have a loss to taint what had been a perfect NLCS record. Hernandez came into the game 2-0 in NLCS games, having given up a grand total of three runs in 17 innings.
"Every time he pitches, he gives us a chance," third baseman Mark Reynolds said afterward. "He made one bad pitch all night, and it hurt us. It seems like after that swing it was like, 'Dang we can't do anything right.'"
Hernandez had already given his team a performance in October that Melvin termed "Houdini-like," which closed out a Division Series sweep of the Cubs. But ultimately, the biggest nemesis Hernandez ran into all season proved to be his downfall.
Hernandez was second in the Majors in home runs allowed during the regular season with 34. And the two that he would allow on Sunday accounted for all four runs that Colorado would score.
Yes, Hernandez was left sour by that 98th pitch of the night, but even he wouldn't let it sour the entire evening.
"It's a great game," said Hernandez. "I pitched a really good game."
Everyone else agreed.
Two D-backs coaches came up to Hernandez afterward, patted him on the back and praised his efforts. For so long he has been a big-time pitcher thriving in the big-time situations. And regardless of that fastball, his team doesn't believe that distinction should change.
"He pitched great," said Melvin. "In a game where we're not giving him any support and the conditions and so forth out there, I thought he did more than his job to keep us in the game, give us a chance."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.