El Duque knocks out Boston

El Duque knocks out Boston

BOSTON -- El Duque reigns.

That was obvious in the Chicago White Sox victorious clubhouse after Friday's American League Division Series clincher.

A knot of White Sox celebrated in a foam-speckled circle in the center of the room, chanting, "El Duque! El Duque! El Duque!" Presumably, that shaved head in the middle belonged to the man himself, Orlando Hernandez.

El Duque worked the room. El Duque held up a fistful of cigars. El Duque hugged everyone in grabbing range.

Hernandez, the honcho from Havana, danced his way into White Sox immortality at Fenway Park.

But before that ...

"I know this kid is going to show up with cold blood," manager Ozzie Guillen said.

There hardly could have been more pressure hissing from a playoff balloon. One pin dropped in the wrong direction and the Chicago White Sox chances for a sweep were flying in rubbery ribbons.

"You never get used to it, no matter how many games you pitch in. Whatever the situation, you never get used to it," Hernandez said.

Manny Ramirez's second home run had just brought the Boston Red Sox within one run in the sixth inning. Damaso Marte, in relief of Freddy Garcia, had given up a single to Trot Nixon and two walks.

Bases loaded. No outs.

Hernandez was summoned from the bullpen by Guillen, who was already in a high snit over plate umpire Mark Wegner's ball-strike calls.

"You have to concentrate pitch by pitch and try not to make the wrong one," Hernandez said. "The second you don't concentrate, that's when you get hurt."

He concentrated very well.

Jason Varitek, a switch-hitter, batted for fellow catcher Doug Mirabelli. Hernandez provided the perfect matchup -- Varitek was just 1-for-18 against El Duque in his career. Sure enough, up the chute, a foul out to A.J. Pierzynski.

Now came Tony Graffanino, seeking redemption for that second-game error. On the 10th pitch, a pop fly settled into the glove of Juan Uribe.

"Graffanino had a great at-bat," Hernandez said. "He battled and I have to resort on my experience, and it's kind of a gutsy call."

Hernandez decided on an inside pitch.

"My catcher was surprised, but I thought that was the only way I could get him out," he said.

To Johnny Damon, the count ran full. A low, inside pitch flowed near Damon's ankles. Ball four, tie score ... no! Wegner ruled Damon had swung, going far enough before freezing his bat.

Strike three. Inning over.

After that great escape, Hernandez added two scoreless innings while allowing only a two-out single to John Olerud in the eighth.

This was vintage Hernandez, appearing in the 18th postseason game of his career but his first for someone other than the New York Yankees.

In fact, El Duque was a late choice for the White Sox postseason roster, getting the nod over young Brandon McCarthy. He got there with an impressive performance in the final series at Cleveland.

"He dominated Cleveland and, buddy, that was a tough spot -- bases loaded and no outs against one of the best offenses, if not the best in the game," homer-hero Paul Konerko said.

"I mean, that sums up our year right there."

During his stint with the Yankees, Hernandez compiled a 9-3 postseason record. With his three shutout innings against the Red Sox, his ERA dropped to 2.57.

In 2000, when the Yankees won it all for the third straight time, El Duque was 3-1 with a 3.94 ERA in the playoffs. In 1999, he was 3-0 with a 1.20 ERA in October; in 1998, he was 2-0 and 0.64.

But, when it comes down to it, White Sox fans will remember only the one memorable performance that helped close the door on the Red Sox in the ALDS.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.