Tony Fernandez Flexed Rare Power At Historic Moment
Fernandez Modeled His Batting Stance After Hall Of Famer Rod Carew
As baseball fans mourn the passing of Tony Fernandez, we can find some comfort in reflecting on his lengthy and memorable career. Most tributes to the All-Star Gold Glove infielder have involved two nuggets of trivia about him, one of them regarding a recent Hall of Fame inductee.
It was because Fernandez suffered a season-ending injury in Spring Training that young Derek Jeter took over as the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees, a role he would keep until his retirement in 2014. Fernandez would return to become a starting infielder, only it would be with a variety of teams other than the Yankees.
While the jerseys changed frequently during the latter half of his career, one characteristic remained constant for Fernandez: his unique batting stance. The star infielder used an unusually opened approach at the plate, which began with nearly his entire body facing the pitcher.
One of those hurlers probably remembers that pose better than anyone else, much to his own chagrin. Armando Benitez, the closer of the Baltimore Orioles, was the victim of the greatest single moment in Fernandez's career.
It came in game six of the 1997 American League Championship Series, when Fernandez and his Cleveland Indians were up three games to two. Even though they were a win away from capturing the pennant, the Indians still had a huge obstacle to overcome by having to finish the series in Baltimore.
To add to that difficulty was the fact the Tribe had to face Cy Young Award winner Mike Mussina, who had been virtually unbeatable in Camden Yard. Alas, he would continue to be unbeaten there, shutting out the Indians in his eight innings of work.
Cleveland, however, also had its ace working, and Charles Nagy was able to keep the Orioles off the scoreboard for eight innings as well. The shutout did not end in the ninth, nor in the tenth, even though Baltimore had garnered minor threats after walks to future Hall of Famers Cal Ripken and Roberto Alomar.
In the eleventh Baltimore turned it over to Benitez, who made short work of Marquis Grissom and Omar Vizquel on just four pitches. His next delivery, however, cleared the right field wall, and Fernandez made his home run trot. Cleveland closer Jose Mesa shut down the Orioles in the bottom of the eleventh, so the Indians were headed to the World Series.
Because of that clutch hit by Fernandez, game six of the 1997 ALCS remains the only postseason 1-0 contest that was decided by a home run. It is an unusual legacy for Fernandez to have left behind, for he was never a power hitter in his career.