"I feel great and that's something I had to do," Hernandez said. "Honestly, my neck hurt a little bit and I didn't have all my power in my pitches, but I did the best I could."
It was enough. The White Sox lead the series, 3-0, and are one win away from their first World Series championship in 88 years.
"Somehow, someway, he always finds a way to avoid the big inning," White Sox starter Jon Garland said. "He put himself in trouble and he got himself right out of it. You have to tip your cap to him."
Hernandez started the ninth inning, replacing Dustin Hermanson in Hermanson's first postseason appearance -- an outing that saw him give up one hit and strike out one batter in one-third of an inning.
All El Duque did was retire Adam Everett on one pitch and then walk pinch-hitter Chris Burke on four pitches. He allowed the speedy infielder to advance to second base on an errant throw on a pickoff attempt with Craig Biggio at the plate. Burke stole third base and Biggio walked with one out to put runners on the corners.
El Duque struck out rookie Willy Taveras and then fell behind All-Star Lance Berkman before sending him to first base on an intentional walk to load the bases.
"You don't get used to pressure, you do the best you can," Hernandez said. "The team needed me."
He has met the challenges recently. Hernandez shined in the American League Division Series against the Red Sox after entering in Game 3 with the bases loaded and then escaping unscathed. The situation was different Tuesday against the Astros, but the results were the same. Hernandez struck out Morgan Ensberg to keep the score tied, 5-5.
Hernandez performed heroically again, but he didn't have time to enjoy the spoils. He walked Orlando Palmeiro, the first batter he faced in the 10th, on four pitches and was removed because of a sore neck. Luis Vizcaino, who had not pitched during the postseason, replaced him. Bobby Jenks and Damaso Marte followed Vizcaino.
Marte would go on to pitch 1 2/3 scoreless innings -- a far cry from his last appearance when he faced three batters, walking two and giving up a hit, in the now infamous Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. In that game, Marte eventually yielded to Hernandez.
"I am grateful they gave me another opportunity," Marte said. "It was a big game for us to put Houston away. Ozzie has always had confidence in me and thank God I was able to do my job."