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HERSHISER FORCED TO SURRENDER HIS 'BULLDOG' LABEL

Over the years, Orel Hershiser became known as the best clutch pitcher of his generation, the man you would feel most comfortable sending to the mound for a big postseason game.

But after five games of the 93rd World Series, it's become painfully apparent that Hershiser's day is now past, and that we are now residing in the Livan Hernandez generation.

For the second time in a week, Hershiser took the mound against an excitable 22-year-old rookie Thursday night, with a chance to give the Indians an advantage in the Series.

And once again, Hernandez outpitched him. For the second time in six days, Hershiser hung a pitch and Florida's Moises Alou hit it over the wall for a decisive, three-run homer.

Alou's sixth-inning blast sent the Marlins on their way to an 8-7 victory. As it dropped beyond the center-field wall, you could almost see Hershiser's postseason reputation disappear along with it.

There was a time when Hershiser seemed close to unhittable in these big games. He gathered strength as the games went on. He clung so tenaciously to leads he earned the nickname "Bulldog."

So when he took a 4-2 lead into the sixth inning, Indians fans couldn't help but feel confident. He had retired 10 in a row when Gary Sheffield singled with one out.

Then he walked Bobby Bonilla, and after getting Darren Daulton on a flyout, he hung the slider to Alou.

"I didn't feel any different at all tonight," Hershiser said. "I just didn't execute the pitch to Alou. He took advantage of a mistake, the same way he did in Florida."

"I tried to get a strike and make it break sharp and it stayed over the middle of the plate and he hit it out. I was trying to get it on the outer half. I don't know where it ended up, but I know it was up."

He was gone two batters later, having surrendered six earned runs. In Game One, he had tied a Series record by allowing seven earned runs in defeat.

Suddenly, the best clutch pitcher of his generation was just another inadequate arm, one more reason these Series games have dragged on interminably into the autumn nights.

Meanwhile, young Hernandez was continuing the construction of his own youthful legend, turning in an uneven, but courageous effort when the Marlins beleaguered pitching staff needed it most.

Hernandez seemed on the verge of being knocked out early. He was visibly agitated from the opening batter. After a shaky second inning, his catcher, Charles Johnson, and injured pitcher Alex Fernandez, lectured him in the dugout.

"Alex told me to take it easy, to take it slow, to calm myself down," Hernandez said through an interpreter. "He said there was still a lot of baseball to be played and we were going to win the game."

But he kept nibbling and gave up three more walks and a three-run homer to Sandy Alomar in the third. With one out in the fourth, he had thrown 80 pitches, half of them balls, and it seemed inconceivable that he would be in the game much longer.

He kept at it, though. He rediscovered his control, and when Alou hit his three-run homer off Hershiser in the sixth, Hernandez seemed to draw resolve from the knowledge that he had a lead to protect.

Hernandez worked into the ninth inning. He threw 142 pitches, only 77 for strikes. He walked eight hitters. He walked the tightrope all night. But the kid won. He survived.

It was the sort of performance you'd come to expect from Hershiser, the old Bulldog. But that Hershiser simply doesn't exist anymore. At age 39, he still has the will. But he no longer has the overpowering stuff that brought hitters to their knees in his prime.

"I let the team down in two starts and that's disappointing," Hershiser said. "But that's baseball.

"As a part of the human race, you're disappointed for the fans and the team," he said. "But spiritually speaking, I'm fine. I did my best. I love this game. This is the big arena, the big deal. But it's not life or death."

He put the best face on the situation. But you could tell it was difficult for him. It's never easy for an athlete, especially a fierce competitor like Hershiser, to acknowledge the passing of time, or the emergence of a rival 17 years his junior.

"Livan has performed well under pressure, for a pitcher of his stature," Hershiser said. "I'm not sure it's going to put him in the postseason elite yet."

Hershiser quickly added that he has never considered himself one of the postseason elite. But he made his point. It will take more than one postseason for the Cuban wunderkind to build a reputation like Hershiser's.

Two wins in one Series is a start, though. And whether Hernandez becomes the new autumn mound king or not, it seems clear that Hershiser's October reign is over.

Hershiser will be a free agent after the season. It's unclear whether he will re-sign with the Indians, or whether they are even inclined to sign him. After his past two performances, it's unlikely they'll shell out big bucks for him.

He will be 40 years old at this time next season, and Thursday night, he looked like the best pitcher of some other generation.

In other words, he seemed suddenly very old.

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