Even though El Duque failed to post a win, his solid performance was the key in New York's 5-2 victory Thursday night over Cleveland.
Hernandez, who signed to a $6 million contract after defecting from Cuba last winter, allowed two runs and seven hits in 7 2/3 innings. He walked three and struck out seven.
"I respect the Cleveland lineup but I was prepared to pitch my game," Hernandez told reporters through interpreter Jose Cardenal, the Yankees first-base coach.
It was the Yankees' first appearance at Jacobs Field since losing Game 5 of the AL Division Series last October, and the second meeting between the division leaders this season.
Although a rookie, El Duque kept his composure before another full house at Jacobs Field, as Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove questioned whether his move with runners on base was a balk and Yankees manager Joe Torre decided to remove him from the game.
"If my concentration was not broken when I jumped into a little boat and went out in the ocean to leave Cuba, nothing in the game of baseball is going to bother me," he said. "Maybe I was a little surprised to leave the game, then again maybe not because we have a great bullpen."
Torre is finding out the El Duque is not a pitcher who can leave satisfied just because a manager is compelled to make a strategic pitching change.
"When I took him from the game he looked shocked," Torre said. "He said, 'Out?' Then I had to take the ball from him and it wasn't easy. He's a warrior."
Indians starter Charlie Nagy retired the first 11 batters before Paul O'Neill doubled in the fourth. The right-hander allowed two runs and five hits in 7 2/3 innings.
The Yankees took a 2-0 lead in the fifth on RBI singles by Scott Brosius and Chuck Knoblauch.
Lofton went 3-for-4 and drove in both Cleveland runs with his single in the seventh.
In the ninth, Brosius would not be denied, not by home plate umpire Tim Tschida and not by hard-throwing reliever Mike Jackson.
Brosius, deprived of an apparent RBI single on a call by Tschida, battled Jackson for 11 dramatic pitches and drew a bases-loaded walk that started New York's three-run outburst.
"Brosius battled me real tough," Jackson said. "He walked on a fastball. It was close. In that situation I just tried to stay focused and make another good pitch. I thought the last one was good. That's how the game goes."
Jackson entered the game after New York loaded the bases with one out against Paul Assenmacher (2-4).
Jackson struck out Chad Curtis and got one strike on Brosius, who then tapped a slow roller toward third that apparently scored the go-ahead run. Tschida didn't hesitate in ruling the ball foul.
"Tim said he heard the ball hit something but when I went out to argue he realized it may have been premature," Torre said.
After Brosius walked on a pitch just off the outside corner, Knoblauch singled off first baseman Jim Thome's glove for one run, and another run scored on the play when second baseman David Bell threw wildly trying to get Knoblauch at first.
Jeff Nelson (4-3) got the final out in the eighth, and Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth for his 15th save.
Notes: Sandy Alomar Jr. missed his fourth straight start with tendinitis in his right shoulder. ... Hernandez was bidding to become the first Yankee to start and win his first three big league games since Mel Stottlemyre in 1964. ... New York is 16-5 at Jacobs Field, the best record of any Indians opponent. ... Cleveland starters are 12-5 with a 2.64 ERA in the last 21 games. ... Cleveland is 3-23 when scoring three runs or fewer. ... New York's 23-11 road record is the best in the majors. ... The Yankees' 49-16 start ties the 1928 team for second best in team history. The 1939 Yanks began 50-15. ... Lofton has six hits in two games against New York this season. ... New York is 8-0 in games decided in the final at-bat. Cleveland is 8-8 in such games.