21 years ago, Livan Hernandez struck out 15 Braves in a postseason masterpiece
Many of the most memorable performances in postseason history came from starting pitchers putting their teams on their backs and pitching them to victory. Roy Halladay had his no-hitter against the Reds in 2010. Jack Morris pitched 10 shutout innings in 1991. Curt Schilling pitched with a bum ankle in 2004.
And, Livan Hernandez struck out 15 Braves in 1997.
The Marlins found themselves in the postseason for the first time in franchise history and had to face the Braves in the NLCS, because that's what teams did in the '90s. With the series tied 2-2, the Marlins sent the Cuban rookie to the mound to face off against Greg Maddux.
Hernandez had a lot of merits as a pitcher that helped him carve out a 17-year career in the Majors, but an ability to pile up strikeouts was not one of them. He struck out only 5.6 batters per nine innings over the course of his career. But, on Oct. 12, 1997, he silenced the dynastic '90s Braves to the tune of 15 strikeouts in a complete-game three-hitter to help his team to a 2-1 win.
It's been suggested that Hernandez received some help from home-plate umpire Eric Gregg in the form of a generously large strike zone. Possible evidence for that argument is present in his 15th strikeout of the game on a curveball to Fred McGriff that may or may not have been a touch outside:
Regardless of how much help Hernandez received from Gregg's strike zone, it's indisputable that Hernandez tossed an absolute gem. To make the performance even more impressive, consider that it was just the 18th start of his career. The performance netted him the NLCS MVP Award and was likely a factor in him taking home the World Series MVP Award as well.
Simply in terms of strikeouts, Hernandez never came close to matching his performance as a rookie in the NLCS. On July 8, 2001, he struck out 11 Brewers and struck out 10 batters on two other occasions. Those stand as his only four double-digit strikeout performances.
Every player reacts differently when thrust into the pressure of a postseason game. Not everyone rises to the occasion. But, 21 years ago, Livan Hernandez found himself in the biggest moment of his career and delivered the best performance he would ever give.