Each weekend Half Smokes Heroes will pay some respect to a group or individual flying under the radar who has gone above and beyond the call of duty during the week.
Al Leiter is probably most well-known for being the starting pitcher for the Marlins in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, but he had a long, strong career in the majors. Early in his career with the Blue Jays and Yankees, Leiter dealt with injuries, failing to appear in more than 15 games until his sixth season in the majors. But the lessons he learned while fighting injuries early in his career helped him to become a more durable and effective pitcher after his early struggles.
For eleven straight seasons, Leiter started over 20 straight games, winning at least 10 games in every year except his final year in 2005. By learning how to manage his arm and manage the game, Leiter became one of the best pitchers in the game through the late nineties and the early 2000's.
That's great and all, but how does that relate to D.C.? Find out after the jump.
In 1997, Livan Hernandez was an up-and-coming pitcher with the Marlins, still making the transition to a new league and a new country. Obviously, he had some talent (he was the MVP of the NLCS and the World Series that season) but he still had to prove he could be more than just a flash in the pan.
Safe to say, I think Livan was taking notes from Leiter during their time together in Florida. From 1998-2009, Livan appeared in at least 30 games, routinely picking up at least ten wins per season, and leading the majors in innings pitched from 2003-05. At the age of 35, Livan is still going strong, posting an ERA of 3.12 and pitching two complete games, at an age at which most pitchers struggle to go seven innings.
More impressive? He wants to do it again next year and long beyond, according to Adam Kilgore:
Hernandez has said he wants to pitch four more seasons, and his renaissance this year helps his case. Hernandez ranks 13th in the National League in innings (133 2/3) and 12th in ERA.
Hernandez is motivated to stay in baseball because of his experience as a rookie with the Florida Marlins, when veterans taught him the game and how to handle its trappings. Hernandez, as he's done this year with his younger teammates, wants to continue to pass along what he knows.
For his role in Livan Hernandez's development, and inspiring Livan to pass on his knowledge to the Nationals' young pitchers, we give this week's Half Smokes Hero award to Al Leiter.