The Florida Marlins rookie hopes to duplicate that

By Steven Wine Associated Press Published:

The Florida Marlins rookie hopes to duplicate that performance _ if the umpire will let him _ when the World Series begins Saturday against the Cleveland Indians.

Hernandez beat the Braves in Game 5 of the National League championship series with a three-hitter and an NLCS-record 15 strikeouts. Atlanta batters complained that Hernandez benefited unfairly from umpire Eric Gregg's generous strike zone.

Will the same pitches be strikes Saturday?

"If they're not, he's capable of moving the ball to where they will be," Marlins pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "He saw what he had to do the other day, and he did it. If the strike zone is tighter, the pitcher has to tighten up."

The plate umpire in Game 1 will be Ed Montague of the National League. His strike zone is regarded as average _ larger than some, smaller than others.

"I'll have to get a feel for the umpire," Hernandez said through an interpreter. "I'm going to work the corners and change up my pitches like I did against Atlanta."

Who in the Indians' lineup worries him?

"They all worry me," he said, "because they all have bats in their hands."

Hernandez, a 22-year-old Cuban defector, said he doesn't know where the city of Cleveland is, but he has faced the Indians. In 1996, his first professional season, he allowed them eight runs and 12 hits in 6 2/3 innings in consecutive spring training appearances that earned him a demotion to the minors.

The Marlins blamed culture shock for that slow start. This year Hernandez quit eating fast food, dropped 20 pounds, won his first nine major league decisions and even learned a little English.

Now, Hernandez knows how to say "World Series."

"He handled himself like no other 22-year-old ever has," teammate Jeff Conine said. "We have all the confidence in the world in him."

Hernandez's family and friends in Cuba may not be able to watch the game, but much of the rest of the world will. Even the president is talking about the Marlins.

"I want to congratulate those in Miami because their baseball team is going to be in the World Series," President Clinton said Thursday during his tour of South America.

In Miami, the bandwagon is overflowing. Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga was so disappointed by attendance this season that he put the team up for sale, but a record crowd of 65,000 is expected for Game 1.

The new hero is Hernandez, the MVP in the NLCS. He received a key to the city today in Little Havana.

Florida's precocious right-hander will be opposed by Cleveland's 39-year-old Orel Hershiser, who started and lost the first game in Marlins history in April 1993, when he pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Five seasons later, the Marlins are in the postseason for the first time, and they're thriving. The NL's wild-card team swept San Francisco in the NL division series, then surprised two-time defending league champion Atlanta to win the NLCS in six games.

Cleveland is also regarded as an upstart despite winning its second American League title in three years. The Indians beat Baltimore 4-2 in the AL Championship Series thanks to four one-run victories.

The Marlins swept a three-game series from Baltimore in interleague play, but they didn't meet Cleveland, and manager Jim Leyland is glad.

"I'm from the old school, and I think it's great," he said. "It's one of the mystiques of the game _ you go to the World Series and you've never seen your opponent before."

To reach this point in postseason play, the Marlins overcame a wave of illness and injuries. The latter remain a concern.

Third baseman Bobby Bonilla, who left Tuesday's pennant-clinching victory in the eighth inning with a sore left hamstring, took batting practice Thursday, but didn't field any ground balls. Bonilla said the injury could keep him out of the lineup for the first two games in Miami.

"I don't want something like this to rain on the parade," he said. "I'm

going to battle it, but I'm not going to hurt the team in any way. If I

have to miss the first two and then go to Cleveland, that's what I'll

do."

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