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HERNANDEZ IGNITES MARLINS FEVER IN TWO NATIONS

At 9 p.m. Friday, Livan Hernandez shut out all the lights in his Miami apartment. He didn't do it because he was tired, or because he was trying to save on his electric bill.

No, Hernandez simply wanted people to believe he had gone to bed, so he could get a moment's peace from the hysteria he has helped to created in the suddenly baseball-mad community of South Florida.

That's how bad it's gotten down here over the past week or so. Suddenly, everyone is mad for the Marlins. And no player has done so much to stir the common emotions in this great melting pot as the 22-year-old right-hander from Villa Clara, Cuba.

In Miami, which has the largest number of Cuban immigrants of any American city, Hernandez, who defected in September, 1995, has become a local folk hero. He's a hot item back home, too.

"I know in Cuba everybody is following the Marlins," Hernandez said, "and everybody wants to wear a Marlins cap."

Baseball is Cuba's national sporting passion. Great pitchers are especially revered, the way shortstops are in the Dominican Republic. Fidel Castro was a pretty fair hurler in his day, good enough to attract the interest of American scouts.

On Saturday night, the lights went back on for Hernandez. He pitched the first World Series game in Marlins history, and in doing so, he became the first Cuban to pitch in a series game since Luis Tiant did it for Boston in 1975.

Hernandez was up to the task. He wasn't nearly as effective as he'd been against the Braves the week before, when he'd struck out 15. But on a night when he lacked command of his curveball, he was good enough, earning the win as the Marlins beat the Indians, 7-4, in Game One.

He gave up eight hits and three runs before giving way to Dennis Cook with two outs in the sixth. Hernandez threw a minor tantrum as he made his way through the Marlins dugout and into the dressing room.

"I did get a little angry," Hernandez said through an interpreter. "We're down to the final games of the season. I got behind on a few hitters and I showed my emotions. I wasn't angry about being taken out. I was angry with myself.

"I wasn't any more nervous than any other games," he said. "I felt fine. The problem was, I only had my fastball working. My breaking ball wasn't working tonight. I made some bad pitches."

Still, he made enough good ones to win. Years from now, he will look back on this night and think of it as somehow perfect.

"This was a very good experience, very exciting," Hernandez said. "We won our first game. The team played good defense behind me. (Catcher) Charlie Johnson caught a good game and I'm just very excited.

"As a child, it never even passed through my mind to do this. This is a tremendous dream, pitching in a World Series. It's the maximum."

Until a year ago, when he watched Game Six of the Yankees-Braves series, Hernandez had never even watched a World Series game live, though family friends had once given him videotapes of the 1992 and '93 series.

By that time, people who had seen him pitch knew Hernandez had the ability to succeed in the big leagues, if given the opportunity. His Cuban agent, Joe Cubas, helped him slip away from the national team when it was in Mexico in 1995.

Cubas shopped Hernandez around for the big-league clubs, seeking out the highest bidder. Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga rose to the challenge. He sent a private jet to pick up Hernandez in Texas and wound up signing him for $4.5 million, including a $2.5 million signing bonus.

That was a lot of cash for a kid who used to ride his bicycle to games in his native Cuba. In his first year in the U.S., Hernandez spent an inordinate amount of time in fast-food joints.

He became a walking Happy Meal. The 6-2 Hernandez was actually skinny when he defected, but while playing in the minor leagues in 1996 he ballooned to about 250 pounds, 30 pounds over his listed playing weight.

He struggled last season with a 2-4 record and 5.14 earned-run average at Triple A Charlotte before getting demoted to Double-A.

Last spring, though, he avoided the drive-through window at McDonald's and shed most of the extra weight. He pitched well at Triple-A and earned a promotion to Florida in June.

Hernandez won his first nine decisions and finished 9-3 with a 3.18 ERA. Manager Jim Leyland didn't intend to use him as a starter in the postseason, but was forced to change his plans when Alex Fernandez went down with a torn rotator cuff.

He responded with one of the best pitching performances in playoff history, striking out 15 in Florida's 2-1 victory over Atlanta that put the Marlins one win away from the World Series.

Saturday night, he became the youngest pitcher to start a Series game since Dwight Gooden in 1986. He outpitched Orel Hershiser, a man 17 years his senior and generally regarded as the best big-game pitcher of his generation.

That gives him back-to-back wins over former Cy Young winners, Greg Maddux and Hershiser.

"I didn't know about today's pitcher, that he had won the Cy Young," he said. "It's something very good, to confront pitchers that good and come out a winner. That's something you should feel very happy about."