A native of Cuba, Livan Hernández had a rookie year to remember in 1997.
For the Florida Marlins, Hernández went 9-3 during the regular season and finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. Hernández would go on to win World Series MVP, but his finest moment may have come on this day 25 years ago.
In Game 5 of the 1997 National League Championship Series, Hernández went the distance and struck on an NLCS record 15 batters. His effort helped the Marlins win 2-1 and take a 3-2 series lead over the Atlanta Braves.
Hernández has picked up the win as a reliever in Game 3 but was making his first postseason start as the teams arrived at Pro Player Stadium for Game 5 on Oct. 12, 1997. Hernández began the contest by allowing a triple to Kenny Lofton and a walk to Keith Lockhart, but settled in nicely, striking out the side from there. Chipper Jones and Fred McGriff each went down swinging before Ryan Klesko struck out looking to end the first.
The Marlins drew first blood in the bottom of the inning on an RBI single from Bobby Bonilla, but the Braves got to Hernández in the second. Michael Tucker’s lead-off solo home run would tie the game and account for all the Atlanta offense.
Hernández struck out a single batter in each inning from the second to the fifth. He closed the sixth by striking out Jones and McGriff. To open the seventh, he struck out Klesko and Tucker.
At the seventh-inning stretch, the rookie had set down 12 straight Braves. The score was still knotted, 1-1.
In the bottom of the seventh, Florida regained the lead against Atlanta ace Greg Maddux. After Bonilla doubled to start the inning, Conine singled him home on a sharp groundball up the middle.
That’s all Hernández would need.
The rookie opened the eighth with two more strikeouts. Lofton worked a two-out walk, but was gunned down trying to steal second by Florida’s Gold Glove catcher, Charles Johnson.
With 13 strikeouts to his name, Hernández began the ninth by fanning Lockhart on three pitches. After catching a comebacker off the bat of Jones, Hernández took advantage of the generous outside corner given by home plate umpire Eric Gregg throughout the day and struck out McGriff looking on a 3-2 breaking ball to end the contest.
Hernández allowed just three hits and two walks on 143 pitches during his record-breaking performance. That wide outside corner remains a sore subject for fans in Atlanta, but with a rotation that for years included Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz, it’s hard to shed many tears.
The Marlins would go on to clinch the pennant back in Atlanta before winning their first World Series over the Cleveland Indians. Hernández was the winning pitcher four times during the 1997 postseason. His lone NLCS start was a record-breaking one that took place on this day a quarter-century ago.