RED SOX INSIDER

Tomase: Kike Hernandez keeps adding to his playoff resume

RED SOX INSIDER

The night before the greatest game of his life, Kiké Hernández decided to try something new.

His wife Mariana, an actress and former Miss Universe finalist who's no stranger to the pressure of performing, believed in the holistic power of meditation, breathing, and what we generally think of as mindfulness. Hernández practiced visualization exercises in his hotel room -- exactly what he visualized he'd prefer to keep private -- and tried to stay in the moment.

The next day, he joined his Dodgers teammates at Wrigley Field for Game 5 of the 2017 National League Championship Series. Win, and the Dodgers would reach the World Series for the first time since 1988. Lose, and they'd give the defending champions another day to remember what had made 2016 so special.

Tomase: How the Red Sox can beat the favored Astros in the ALCS

In his first at-bat, Hernández ripped a home run just over the left field fence to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead. In his second at-bat, he stroked an opposite-field grand slam to make it 7-0. In the ninth, he crushed a two-run homer to put the finishing touches on an 11-1 victory.

As Hernández rounded the bases, he found himself simultaneously rooted in the moment and floating far above it.

"The third homer was an out-of-body experience," Hernández said. "The thing I remember most is how quiet Wrigley was and it was a little bit wet that night, and it was so quiet that all I could hear was our dugout going wild and my steps in the squishy dirt. I go back to the moment and think about it, and that's what comes to my mind -- me running the bases quiet, I can hear the boys in the dugout, and then I could just hear my steps."

 

As the Red Sox prepare to visit the Astros for Game 1 of the ALCS on Friday night, there's no doubt that Hernández has emerged as one of their most essential postseason contributors. They don't award a Division Series MVP, but if they did, Hernández would've owned it after hitting .450 with two homers and six RBIs, including a walk-off sacrifice fly in the clincher.

That just continues a run of playoff excellence that began four years ago in Chicago. In the 47 postseason games since, Hernández has hit .259 with 10 homers, 24 RBIs, and an .896 OPS.

When you have success in the postseason, it elevates your confidence. I know it was only one game, but it was a pretty special one and it set the bar for me, knowing that I can get it done at the highest level at the most important times, and it raised my expectations. I'm expecting to come through.

Kike Hernandez on his playoff heroics with the Dodgers

"When you have success in the postseason, it elevates your confidence," he said. "I know it was only one game, but it was a pretty special one and it set the bar for me, knowing that I can get it done at the highest level at the most important times, and it raised my expectations. I'm expecting to come through."

The Red Sox expect it, too, which is why manager Alex Cora has batted him either first or second in every playoff game. That's a far cry from his days with the Dodgers, when he was considered an integral role player, but a role player nonetheless.

Re-watching the highlights of Game 5, Hernández's uniform is striking. He's wearing high socks and stirrups and a baggy top that makes him look like a scrappy utility player or maybe Dustin Pedroia. When he steps into the box wearing No. 5 now, however, he conjures that number's former owner, Nomar Garciaparra. He looks ready to do damage.

It turns out there's a story to the uniform.

"I switch styles based on how I'm performing," Hernández said. "In September, I got pretty hot that year rocking the no tape, no sleeve, just the undershirt, high socks with those stirrup-looking stance L.A. Dodgers socks. I remember some of the guys hated the socks and I was like, 'Hate the socks all you want, but the socks are hot and the socks got knocks.'"

 

Hernández had promised his mother he'd homer that night, and he delivered almost immediately off of Jose Quintana. When he came to the plate with the bases juiced in the fourth against right-hander Hector Rondon, he nervously eyed the dugout.

"I wasn't allowed to face too many righties and that one came in a pretty big moment of a pretty important game on the road, bases loaded, and I was facing a righty," Hernández said. "I wasn't sure if they were going to pinch hit for me or not and they didn't. For me to come through like that, I just remember running the bases, knowing the game was 7-0 with that homer and we had Clayton Kershaw on the mound, and we were going to go to the World Series. It was just a special feeling knowing that this is it. We just won the game and it's only the third inning."

That moment essentially paved the way for this one, with Hernández playing every day in center field and shedding the label of utility guy. If the Red Sox are to pull off an upset of the Astros, Hernández will probably be right in the middle of it.

One might say he owes it to the day he envisioned great things for himself and then made them happen.

"I've always been very confident," he said. "For me, I got to L.A. at 22, 23 years old, and kind of had that utility label, platoon player. In my mind it was unfair. It ate at my mind a little and my confidence, but as a player, I've always thought of myself as doing what I'm doing right now."