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Sunday, June 23, 2019

Roberto Hernandez, Will to Compete - 18

Originally published April 21, 2011
Roberto Hernandez made his major league debut in September 1991 knowing that debut was close to never happening, according to The Associated Press.

Earlier that season, Hernandez underwent surgery for blood clots in his pitching arm. Talk was, The AP wrote, he'd never pitch again.

"I have a strong will to compete," Hernandez told The AP after taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning in his first major league appearance. "I've been through a lot, so I take nothing for granted."

Hernandez not only made the majors for that first game, the pitcher would go on to stay in the majors for 1,009 more.

Hernandez the starter would also quickly give way to Hernandez the reliever, and Hernandez the closer. By the time Hernandez' career ended 16 seasons later, he'd notched himself a total of 326 saves and a career ERA of 3.45.

Hernandez' professional career began in 1986, selected by the Angels in the first round of the draft. He pitched in the Angels system into 1989, when the Angels traded him to the White Sox.

After his call-up to Chicago, White Sox minor-league pitching coordinator Dewey Robinson told The Chicago Tribune of the work they did with Hernandez.

"We changed a lot of things with him," Robinson told The Tribune. "He came in a big hard thrower with a big sloppy curveball. We took the curveball away from him and taught him the slider, and that really helped."

Taken under the wing of White Sox closer Bobby Thigpen, Hernandez got his first 12 saves in 1992. By 1993, Hernandez was the White Sox closer, saving 38 games. He then topped 30 saves three out of the next four seasons.

In 1996, Hernandez saved 38 games again, winning All-Star honors. He also nearly ended Cal Ripken's streak. Hernandez lost his balance during the American League team photo shoot, hitting Ripken in the face, breaking his nose.

"I thought I was going to have to get a bodyguard to go to Baltimore," Hernandez told The Chicago Tribune after it became apparent Ripken, and his streak, would be OK.

Traded to the Giants in mid-1997, Hernandez made his second post-season. In his first, in 1993, Hernandez pitched four innings and didn't give up a run. In his second, Hernandez wasn't as lucky. He gave up three runs in three outings against the Marlins, taking a loss.

"Obviously, it's not easy," Hernandez told The Los Angeles Times after his first two outings that fall. "I haven't done my job and everyone knows that."

Signing with the Devil Rays for 1998, Hernandez became that club's first closer. He saved 26 games his first year there and 43 the next. In one late August 1999 game, Hernandez shut down his old team the White Sox, after his teammates had been rough earlier in the game.

"It's nice to have Roberto," Devil Rays manager Larry Rothschild told The Sarasota Herald-Tribune. "That tells you what he means to this team. We did just about everything we could to give it back."

Hernandez continued as a regular closer through 2002, moving on to the Royals in 2001. For his final five seasons, Hernandez played for six teams and picked up six saves between them.

As what would be his final season came to a close in 2007, Hernandez, who'd been with the Dodgers, still thought about coming back for 2008, according to The Riverside Press-Enterprise. He wanted to do more to pass along his knowledge to younger pitchers.

"Bobby Thigpen trained me to take over his role (as White Sox closer)," Hernandez told The Press-Enterprise. "If he can do that for me, why can't I do that for these guys?"

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