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Hernandez's no-hitter keys Power outage

June 20, 2005|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

Gabriel Hernandez defined the phrase "all or nothing" to the letter on Sunday.

He gave the Hagerstown Suns his all and left West Virginia with nothing.

Hernandez finished off a project he started 11 weeks ago in emphatic fashion with a no-hitter to guide the Suns to a 1-0 victory over the Power while giving Hagerstown a share of the South Atlantic League's North Division title on the last day of the first half.

The New York Mets' third selection of the 2004 amateur draft showed why the organization is high on his promise by putting away West Virginia on 115 pitches to complete the Suns' comeback from a three-game deficit with six games remaining.

He started the Suns on their way to the title tie by starting Hagerstown's season-opening victory on April 7 over the same Power team.

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On Sunday, he finished the work in historic fashion by firing the second no-hitter in the Suns' 25-year history, the first since Clay Hensley completed a seven-inning perfect game against Kannapolis on May 3, 2003, when Hagerstown was a San Francisco affiliate.

"This is very big," Hernandez said. "(The Suns) have worked hard all year. I wanted to put them in the best position. I got lucky."

Luck had nothing to do with it as Hernandez (5-1) mowed down West Virginia with precise pitches that painted the entire strike zone. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound right-hander worked the knees and the letters to perfection while facing just three hitters above the minimum, going the nine innings while striking out six and allowing two walks.

"I just try to throw strikes," he said. "If I hit the spots with my pitches, it's not likely they will get a good solid hit on it."

The only solid hit of the game came by Hagerstown first baseman Jim Burt, whose RBI double in the second inning provided the only run in the game and only run Hernandez needed on this day. Burt, playing for just the eighth time since joining the Suns last month, continued to make the most of his chances with another clutch hit.

"I just want to be part of the team," Burt said. "I got here down the stretch and I'm just trying to stay mentally ready to play."

Grant Psomas drew a leadoff walk off West Virginia starter Greg Kloosterman to open the second. With two outs, Burt lined a 3-2 pitch over left fielder Josh Brady's head to chase Psomas around the bases for what proved to be the only run.

"When it got to 3-2, I got the pitch," Burt said. "It was a little down, but I got a good piece of it. In most parks, that would be a home run, but it was a double here. I'll take it."

The rest of the day fell on Hernandez's shoulders and he was equal to the task. The victory helped the Suns maintain a tie with Lexington, which held on for 6-5 win over Lake County, for the first-half title.

The first-half champion - which receives a playoff berth and home-field advantage in the best-of-3 divisional series - will be determined in a playoff game on Saturday. The game is the first time Hagerstown and Lexington meet in the second half, which will give the game dual meaning.

Hernandez was near perfect through the first five innings. West Virginia's William Lewis reached on an error with two outs in the first when Burt dropped a throw to first base. He walked Grant Richardson with two outs in the fifth, but promptly got out of inning to keep the no-hitter intact.

From there, Hernandez knew he was poised for a possible no-hitter despite all the superstitions baseball players have against talkking about the feat. He couldn't help but stay abreast of the situation.

"Actually, center fielder Ambiorix Concepcion doesn't care about those things," Hernandez said. "He told me right at the fifth inning that I had a no-hitter. It didn't bother me ... It was a matter of what happens, happens."

Hernandez made sure nothing else happened along the way. The only other West Virginia base runner came on Clay Blevins' two-out walk in the eighth. He had the Power lineup taking defensive swings at his pitches.

"What he did speaks for itself," pitching coach Shawn Barton said. "He stepped up in a must-win game and did this. It's beyond words. He established his pitches and he worked up and down against the batters by design. He kept changing the eye levels of the pitches. That was a good lesson for our pitchers."

When Hernandez came out for the ninth inning, he was striding into no-man's land for Suns pitchers. The Mets organization has a strict pitch count for the pitchers, but the situation dictated a change of habit.

"Today was a different game," said Suns hitting coach Luis Natera, who filled in for manager Gene Richards in the series so he could attend his daughter's college graduation in California. "We stretched (Hernandez) out and let him go do it. When you have a job like this, we usually go with a pitch count. But the higher-ups were here today and they told us to let him go.

"He did a great job maintaining his composure. He wasn't only throwing a no-hitter, he was also pitching in a one-run game. He held his composure well."

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