Trio grand! Hernandez has 3-HR, 7-RBI clincher
Left fielder ties all-time MLB records for homers, RBIs in one postseason game
CHICAGO -- His father pleaded patience, and Enrique Hernandez shook his head. His mother called for contact, and Hernandez refused the request. This, the man they call "Kiké" had decided prior to the first pitch of the Dodgers' pennant-clinching victory, was going to be a night to swing early and swing big.
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And by the time this night was over, it was bigger than Kiké could have even imagined and, in the midst of some major family drama, everything he needed.
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Hernandez's three-homer, seven-RBI performance in the Dodgers' 11-1 win at Wrigley Field in the decisive Game 5 of the National League Championship Series presented by Camping World, helped put his team in its first World Series since 1988 and put himself in some extremely rare statistical company, becoming just the 10th player to go deep three times in a postseason game and the first to drive in that many runs in an LCS game. He was the first to do both in any postseason game.
"It's unbelievable," Hernandez said. "It's amazing."
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But more importantly, this epic evening, played with his cancer-surviving father in the stands, his mother back home in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, and his recently-widowed grandmother battling breast cancer, was Hernandez powering through life's many curves by hammering two of its fastballs and one of its sliders. This was Hernandez stepping up on the big stage while carrying the big weight of the medical and meteorological struggles that have struck so near and dear to his heart.
It all goes back to December 2015, when Hernandez's father, Enrique Hernandez II, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer related to leukemia. As his father fought the disease throughout 2016, Hernandez fought to put together a special season in his honor. And as so often happens in this sport, the pressure Hernandez put on himself to perform -- to say nothing of the rib cage inflammation that cost him a month of action -- only caused him to perform worse. He had a miserable year at the plate and admitted there were moments when he felt he had lost his love of the game.
"The mind," his father said Thursday night, "is a powerful thing in baseball."
In November of last year came the good news that the elder Hernandez, who is a part-time scout for the Pirates and a full-time salesman in Puerto Rico, was in remission. But his fight continues to this day, in the form of chemotherapy pills and regular trips to Tampa, Fla., for checkups.
"I'm feeling good," the father said. "I think I have one more year of chemo. I'm very excited that I can travel to see these games. I coached him when he started to play at 6 years old. And I was his manager all the time. And he's never had a game like this. Never. That was his best game, by far."
The game came just a month after Hernandez's grandfather, Enrique Hernandez I, passed away and while his grandmother, Carmen, is dealing with complications following breast cancer surgery. The eldest Enrique and Carmen were together for 60 years.
"Right now, she's in Virginia, where my sister lives," Hernandez's father said. "They found another tumor. She's 84 years old. I don't want her to take chemo and things. I talk with my other sisters, and, whatever God wanted, that's it. I don't want to touch her. Because it's very hard to when you're 84 years old."
Amidst all of this medical difficulty, there is the devastation the Hernandez family, like thousands of other Puerto Rican families, have experienced in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Hernandez and his fiancée, Mariana Paola Vicente, launched a fundraiser on social media -- YouCaring.com/LosNuestros -- to help those in need. And on Thursday, his mother, Monica Gonzalez, watched his incredible performance on a television powered by a generator at her parents' house.
"Make sure you get there before the game starts," Hernandez told his mom, "because I'm going to hit a homer."
"Don't think about hitting a homer," she responded, "just think about putting the ball in play."
"No, Mom, I was thinking about doing that the first two games, and that didn't work, so I'm just going to try to hit a homer. Who cares about making contact? Everybody just wants homers."
He was joking, but, well, maybe he wasn't. He had a similar pregame conversation with his dad, who told him to be patient against Jose Quintana.
"Papa, forget it," the son said. "The first time, I'm going to homer off that guy. I'm going to be aggressive against him."
The first homer came on the first pitch of the second inning -- a 399-foot shot, per Statcast™, to center field off a fastball.
Hernandez's first two home runs came on the first pitch. The Dodgers would chase Quintana in the third, calling on right-hander Hector Rondon. Hernandez smashed a first-pitch slider from Rondon 390 feet into the netting above the right-center-field wall for the grand slam that made it 7-0.
And then, with the Dodgers safely bound for the World Series presented by YouTube TV, but with personal postseason history still on the line, Enrique The Third hit his third homer in the ninth, a two-run shot off Mike Montgomery.
"The third one, I don't even know what happened," he said. "I honestly don't know what happened."
What happened was the night of his life, at a time when his life needed a night like this.