10/13/07 12:00 PM ET
Montero, Hernandez more than mates
Rookie has found a mentor, friend in veteran hurler
By Jesse Sanchez / MLB.com
A really expensive pair of shoes.
"We were in batting practice this year and Livo told me, 'Hit the ball out opposite field, I will give you a pair of Ferragamo shoes.' Boom. I hit it out," Montero recalls. "Next pitch, he goes, 'You hit this one out, you get a pair of Gucci shoes.' Boom. I hit it out. Great, I come to BP to hit and I leave with two new pairs of shoes."
For the rookie Montero, it's been about shoes, experience and a lifetime full of memories working as Hernandez's personal catcher all season. The pair will be on the field once again Sunday when Hernandez takes the mound in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series against the Rockies at Coors Field.
Hernandez is 1-0 with a 1.54 ERA against Colorado this season and 7-8 with a 4.37 ERA for his career against the Rockies.
"[Having Montero as Hernandez's personal catcher] works for a couple of different reasons," D-backs manager Bob Melvin said. "One, it gets Miguel at least one day when he knows he is going to be in there. Two, he's with a veteran guy who can teach him along the way. Three, the comfort of having the guy you can throw to all the time. All those things combined make it a good match and one we want to stick with."
Hernandez, 32, has grown fond of the rookie. He considers Montero one of his best friends on the team and respects the way the Venezuelan native plays the game. Hernandez believes his new buddy will be an everyday catcher one day and just needs the opportunity to prove it. For his part, Montero hit .224 with 10 home runs and 37 RBIs in 214 at-bats during 84 games. He made his Major League debut last season with the D-backs, playing in six games.
"We have a great relationship," Hernandez said. "He moves great back there. He makes a great target. We work good together."
Hernandez went 11-11 with a 4.93 ERA during the regular season, primarily working with Montero. With Montero behind the plate last week, Hernandez limited the Cubs to one run on five hits over six innings for the victory in Game 3 of the NL Division Series to complete the sweep of Chicago.
"He's a young catcher, but he knows how to manage the situations in the game, and that's the most important part," Hernandez said. "He's an offensive catcher. He hits, and it seems like he is going to be a .280 or .300 hitter in the big leagues. He calls a good game."
Montero describes his relationship with Hernandez as "brotherly" and said it has been like a dream come true to work with the veteran. The pair dine together on the road and at home, play golf together and constantly call each other on the phone. Carpooling to work is not uncommon. Hernandez has even gone as far as to buy his "little brother" fancy suits and expensive clothes so he can feel like a real Major League player.
He knows of what he speaks. Hernandez is 7-2 with a 3.75 ERA in 11 appearances (nine starts) in the postseason with Florida, San Francisco and Arizona. During his 14-year career, Hernandez is 134-128 with a 4.25 ERA in 351 games. He was named the Most Valuable Player in the NLCS and World Series in 1997 while with the Marlins.
"For me, it's been unbelievable, an experience I will never forget," Montero said. "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."
"Easy" is one of the two words most often used when the friends describe working with each other. "Fun," in one form or another, is the other.
"It's easy for me to work with a rookie catcher, I don't have a problem with it," Hernandez said. "It's a situation where he calls the game, but you make the decision. If you go down, it's not the catcher that goes down, it's you."
"My goal is to win and help him as much as I can Sunday," Montero said. "That's my job here."
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.