BOSTON -- It's a rite of passage for major league pitchers from Venezuela, and on consecutive nights, Darwinzon Hernandez and Eduardo Rodriguez lived it -- facing future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera.
The South American nation of 32 million has produced about 400 big leaguers since right-hander Alex Carrasquel debuted in 1939, and none of them is as famous or accomplished as Cabrera.
The 11-time All-Star, two-time MVP, and 2012 Triple Crown winner is in his 17th season, and he long ago achieved legendary status in his home country. So, when Hernandez, 22, debuted in the second game of a doubleheader on Tuesday, there was one batter he wanted to face more than anyone.
"I got emotional," Hernandez admitted.
As Cabrera stepped into the box, Hernandez had to gather himself. A week earlier he had been facing Double-A hitters. Now, he was staring down his idol. He fought the butterflies long enough to work the count full before issuing a walk.
E-Rod can identify. He experienced those same butterflies the first time he faced Cabrera in 2016. Cabrera reached three times on a pair of singles and an intentional walk. They've since become friends who work out together in Miami in the offseason, and Rodriguez has limited him to just one hit over their last three matchups.
"He's been my friend since I got to the big leagues," Rodriguez said. "I think you guys have seen it, every time I face him, we joke with each other, things like that, he'll say he's going to hit the ball out of the ballpark every time against me, I tell him I'm going to strike you out all the time. It's a good relationship we have.
"He's a legend from my country. It's special every time I face him because he's a future Hall of Famer. I've had a good relationship with him, and to have that kind of respect that we have for each other, and especially myself for him, this is something we do all the time. I just thank God he hasn't hit a homer yet, because it will be really crazy when he hits it."
Cabrera is used to it. He's known throughout baseball as being particularly giving to his countrymen, and most of them admit being in awe before facing him.
"Intimidated? No. I don't believe that," Cabrera said before Thursday's series finale vs. the Red Sox. "When you put on a uniform, it doesn't matter how old you are. You're in the big leagues for a reason. It doesn't matter how old or young you are. You put a uniform on and you go out there and compete.
"It's different outside of baseball, because when you're on the field, you don't have time to think about that. That's more about being a fan because they don't have a chance to go out there and compete. You see a person in real life and you say, whoa. But when you work in the same place and you step to the big leagues, there's no chance to think like, 'Wow, I'm here.' Now it's time to work. It's a distraction. You don't need a distraction on a baseball field."
Cabrera said he had never heard of Hernandez before facing him, though the young left-hander said they've met. In any event, he was gracious when told how much the at-bat meant to the youngster.
"That's nice to hear," Cabrera said. "He has good stuff."
Hernandez is back in the minors, but if and when he establishes himself as a big leaguer, he should expect to end up in Cabrera's orbit.
"That's the way I am," Cabrera said. "I try to help my teammates, the people I know, the people around me, be a better person, be a better baseball player and that's it."
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