If anybody questions Keith Hernandez’s value to the New York Mets, recent history tells it all.
Consider that the Mets were 1 1/2 games ahead of St. Louis in the National League East before Aug. 23. Consider that they fell three games behind St. Louis when Hernandez went in a 2-for-21 slump that lasted through through Saturday.
Finally, consider that the Cardinal lead has been cut from three games to one while Hernandez has gone 6 for 6 the last two days.
“We go as he goes,” Manager Dave Johnson said. “He had a rough spell there for a couple of weeks. When your No. 3 hitter hits, you usually win. When he doesn’t, you don’t.”
Hernandez began his heroics as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning Sunday at San Francisco. He hit a two-run homer with one out that gave the Mets a 4-3 win.
His momentum continued with a 5-for-5 night Monday as the Mets beat the Padres, 12-4. It was his second five-hit game of the year, a Mets record, and the third five-hit game of his career.
If anything could be attributed to Hernandez’s sudden surge, it was sitting out the first eight innings Sunday.
“It helps to rest, especially in the latter part of the year,” Hernandez said. “I have played in all but two games this year. I was physically fine, but the season is a grind. It’s a test of emotional and mental endurance as well as physical. I have to believe the day off helped.”
The Mets have to believe that without Hernandez, they probably wouldn’t be in the pennant race. After all, he leads the team in runs (66), hits (140), doubles (28) and RBIs (76).
Yet, even a hitter as good as Hernandez must take advice at times. Bill Robinson, the Mets’ batting coach, told Hernandez before Sunday that he was jumping at the ball a little bit.
“When you make the money he makes and have his credentials, you make adjustments,” Robinson said. “It was a basic adjustment of waiting. All you do with Keith Hernandez is tell him how good he is and keep him sky high. He’s too good of a hitter to be going bad.”
Despite his recent slump, Hernandez still has impressive statistics for 1985. He is batting .295 overall and .345 in his last 57 games. He also has 21 game-winning RBIs, tying the NL record he already shared with Jack Clark.
Hernandez certainly showed the Padres what he has been like for most of the season, not the last two weeks. He had four singles and a home run Monday, scored four runs and drove in three.
“Hitting looks so easy when you watch,” Hernandez said. “I had that two-week period where I didn’t feel good at the plate. When you give your mind a day off, it clears your head and you go get ‘em the next day. When you hit one ball like you should, like I did with the pinch-hit home run, you get that feeling back. Then, it all falls into place.”
Hernandez has found his place in New York since being acquired from St. Louis on June 15, 1983, for pitchers Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey.
If there is irony in Hernandez’s new and old teams battling for the NL East championship, he fails to see it.
“It’s like they are any other team,” Hernandez said of the Cardinals. “I have to look at it that way. I can’t look at it like I played there. I have to look at it as a pennant race.”