“I love you Miami.”
If he didn’t have us already, he certainly had us then.
Eisler Livan Hernandez, No. 61 in your program and No. 1 in the hearts of many Miami baseball fans, kicks off our All-Time Top 20 series. Fleeing from Cuba in 1995, and signing with the Florida Marlins in 1996, Hernandez would technically debut late that season when rosters expanded in September. And if you didn’t remember that three inning mop-up appearance against the Braves, the two of us are probably in pretty good company.
Because it was the next year that got him on this list.
Called up for keeps in June of 1997, Livan was quickly embraced by Miami’s Hispanic community, and thrilled fans as he compiled a 9-3 record and 3.18 ERA that was good enough to finish second in the Rookie of the Year voting to some nobody named Scott Rolen. He’d enter the postseason on a three-game losing streak actually, and found himself in the bullpen to start the playoffs. But starting with a brilliant four innings of relief in Game 2 of the NLDS that set up No. 19 on this list for the win, he found his stride just in time.
After earning the win himself thanks to more solid relief work in Game 3 of the NLCS, Hernandez got the starting nod in a Game 5 matchup with Atlanta Braves ace Greg Maddux. Livan responded with a complete game, 15-strikeout peformance in a game still scrutinized as having a strike zone that would make Giancarlo Stanton look like Alfredo Amezaga. But win he did, just the same as he would in his two starts against the Cleveland Indians in the next series, leading the Marlins to their first World Championship. Hernandez was tapped World Series MVP.
And that was arguably the peak of his career.
Not just because of the championship- by that logic Miguel Cabrera peaked in 2003- and MVP honors, but outright performance. Hernandez would never top that 3.18 ERA, never come close to that .750 win percentage, and would only once come remotely edge out that 1997 WHIP of 1.23. His Marlins tenure ended in 1999 when he was shipped off to the Giants for Jason Grilli and future 2003 world champion Nate Bump. What followed 1997 though was another fifteen years of steady production that, while not always pretty, was extremely fun to watch.
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On five occasions, he lead the NL in hits allowed, including his sophomore campaign in 1998; three of those efforts led all of baseball. Yet he also had a three-year stretch where he paced all comers in innings pitched, including two All-Star seasons with the Expos/Nationals. He could hit, batting .270 in 1999 and winning the Silver Slugger award in 2004. Fielding wise, he was off the charts, racking up only fifteen errors in his entire career.
While he did regrettably transition into a Marlin killer- Livan was 14-13 lifetime against his original club, with a 3.69 ERA- after leaving, he’ll always be remembered for the mark he left here.
We love you, Livan.