Forgotten Friars: Ramon Hernandez


The year was 2003. Baseball season was over, and the Padres had just finished a 64-98 season, finishing last in the NL West for the second year in a row. San Diego’s catchers that year were Gary Bennett and Wiki Gonzalez, both of whom could also have a “Forgotten Friars” piece written for them. But November of that off-season brought the Padres a little hope for the upcoming year.

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The Oakland A’s had a promising young catcher named Ramon Hernandez. Hernandez had earned his first All-Star appearance in 2003, hitting .273 with 21 homers and 78 RBI for the Oakland club. And while the A’s had a stellar pitching staff that led them to the AL West crown, their outfield was not a strength, and they coveted the Padres’ fleet center fielder, Mark Kotsay.

The trade was made, with Hernandez and OF Terrence Long coming to the Padres, and Kotsay moving up north.

Hernandez was a big offensive boost for San Diego in 2004, nearly duplicating his previous season, hitting .276 with 18 homers and 63 ribbies. And he put up those numbers in spite of missing part of June and most of July with a knee injury suffered in a home-plate collision.

That Padres team was a little different from the 2014 Padres, though, as they had a good enough lineup to have the talented Hernandez hitting 7th most of the year. Phil Nevin, Ryan Klesko, Mark Loretta, Brian Giles, Khalil Greene. Ah, offense. I remember it well.

2005 brought the Padres back to the postseason for the first time since 1998, and Hernandez played a big part. Despite two stints on the disabled list that limited his playing time to 99 games, Ramon came up big in the stretch drive, hitting .359 in September with an OPS of 1.013. and had two of the biggest clutch hits of the season for the Padres.

On September 17, with the Padres playing against the Nationals and holding a 4.5-game lead in the West, Hernandez smashed a walk-off 3-run bomb off of Jon Rauch to increase San Diego’s lead to 5.5 games with 14 to play. And ten days later, Hernandez had a day that will likely stand as his best game in the major leagues.

With six games to play and the Padres holding a tenuous 3-game lead, the opponent was the second-place Giants. The game was a high-scoring affair, with both teams plating three in the first inning. The Giants put their runs on the board with a Barry Bonds 3-run shot, and the Padres responding with a Mark Sweeney 2-run single and Hernandez’ first RBI of the game, coming on a groundout.

With the Giants up 5-3 in the third, Hernandez made his second trip to the plate with runners on base, and drove a triple to deep right center, knotting the score at five.

The Giants weren’t done, though, and took the lead back in the fourth. But Hernandez had seen enough. When he came up for his third AB of the game in the fourth, the Padres had loaded the bases on a pair of walks and an error. And on a 1-1 count, Hernandez swung as hard as he could and drove the ball the opposite way. It looked like it would be another extra base hit for Hernandez, but then the ball started curving toward the short porch in right. A moment later, the ball had cleared the fence, and four Padres trotted home, with Hernandez crossing the plate with a grand slam, giving him seven RBI on the day.

The 9-6 score held up, and the Padres finished the day with a four-game lead, and went on to win the division.

Hernandez was a free agent at the end of the year, and signed a big contract with Orioles. But for Padres fans, he was the hero of the final week of the 2005 season.