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The Evening Redness in NE Ohio

Who is coming back?
Who is coming back?

Your heart's desire is to be told some mystery. The mystery is that there is no mystery.

-Cormac McCarthy

Roberto Hernandez was never wild in the minors. His career K/BB ratio at every minor league level is at least 2.85 — that's a top 30ish number in the majors (and most minor leagues) and, if you know Hernandez's low-strikeout pitching style, you'll realize it also indicates that he walked very few men per nine. Hernandez didn't lack control on the mound as a young pitcher. Maybe he was displaying a literally hidden maturity or, maybe, the wild just hadn't found him yet.

In Pelotero, a new documentary on baseball in the Dominican Republic, when überprospect Miguel Angel Sano's trainer summarizes Sano this way:

All my life, I've asked God for a player like Miguel Angel.

A great baseball player is a miracle, in more ways than one. Most obviously, a great player performs feats that seem inhuman, miraculous. More subtly, and more intrinsic to the themes of Pelotero, a great player can change the lives of others, as if by a miracle. In a place like the rural Dominican, a new car, a new house, access to first-world healthcare or education — these are minor miracles. A great player's talent makes loaves of bread appear where there were none before, not just for themselves, but for others as well.

Of course, a great player's talent also makes wins appear where there were none before. Roberto Hernandez's 2007 was another minor miracle, one that needs little, if any, re-hashing. Leading the league in GB/FB, the then-Fausto Carmona emerged as the best pitcher on an Indians staff that featured two eventual Cy Young winners — CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee. At the end of 2007, however, many Indians fans would've selected Carmona as the Indians pitcher most likely to put together the kind of runs both Lee and Sabathia have over the last five years. Carmon'a greatness wasn't hard to detect, especially after his domination of the Yankees in the playoffs.

It still seems incomprehensible; he was just this incredibly brave kid, with bugs all over his face. I was (I thought) barely a year younger than Carmona and here I was, an absolute lout, sitting in bars and throwing my hat against the wall when the Indians lost. I couldn't show up on time to a paralegal job I didn't deserve. And there he was, mowing down the best offense in baseball, unfazed by anything happening around him, even a biblical storm of insects. After all, how do you answer a plague? You answer it with a miracle; Fausto was a miracle.

You'll get something like 2.5 million hits if you google the search string Dominican Republic Baseball "Wild West." It is a cliche at this point, but it's an apt cliche. In order to sign baseball players out of the DR, teams become enmeshed in social webs that contain individuals who can be reasonably called outlaws. Pelotero, or the fictional Sugar, shows this world well — "This is a mafia", explains a man in Pelotero. At some point, Hernandez chose to become an outlaw. He gave up an identity and assumed another — he did something almost guaranteed to make him lose control. He did something wild — driven by reason, but as wild as the West where he'd learned to play.

For years after he did this, he stuffed it away and the wild was nowhere to be seen. There was no wild in Fausto's personality — he barely gave interviews. And, for the first half of his professional career, there was no wild in Fausto's game. He threw the ball across the plate and he controlled the game, even dominating it.

Then, unexpectedly, he couldn't control the ball or the game. In 2008, Roberto Hernandez's K:BB was the lowest it had ever been as a starter, at any level: 0.83. It barely improved over the next three years — 1.13, 1.72, 1.82. Hernandez's career minor league K:BB is 3.60; his career major league K:BB now sits at 1.55. When Hernandez first arrived in the states, he was 21 years old; he had signed with the Indians two years prior and, assumedly, had been asserting he was Fausto Carmona for some time prior to that. Is it too stupid, too trite, to wonder if Hernandez's diminishing control on the mound, that wildness, might not just be an artifact of an unbelievably difficult game? Maybe it was the wild coming home to roost.

In 2007, Hernandez was not a brave kid but a brave man. He was beating the Yankees and, you might guess, beating back anxieties about the deeply personal secret he carried. Eventually, opponents started beating him routinely, and, you might guess, he was struggling to beat back those anxieties. Or, maybe, pitching is simply hard and Hernandez is not blessed with the incredibly rare talent to do it consistently well. I've certainly applied Occam's Razor to other poor performing Indians' players; the most likely explanation is not undetected injury, or a need for a change of scenery, or a lack of lasik surgery. The most likely explanation for not performing well is a deficit of the talents needed to perform well. Maybe there's no symbolism here; maybe there's just a lack of talent.

What he did in 2007, though — it wasn't Sowersian. The box scores from that year weren't falsified; they were valid and were the reasons for his extension, for the faith the Indians and their fans placed in him. You can go your whole life as a fan asking God for a player like the 2007 Carmona. Maybe, with the wild receding, Hernandez can be that player.