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Fernandez Turns On the Power

June 21, 1989|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | Times Staff Writer

Tony Fernandez has always played a particularly eye-catching game as the Toronto Blue Jays' shortstop.

His game is filled with graceful moves. His superior range and strong arm ordinarily would be enough to distinguish him from other shortstops. But how you field the position has always seemed to be important to Fernandez.

His flair, just the manner in which he scoops up a ground ball and tosses it to first, is special.

It's why he won his third consecutive Gold Glove last season. It's why he was selected to the All-Star team in 1986 and '87.

And it's why Fernandez never has been known as much of a power hitter. His fielding always seemed to overshadow his hitting.

Usually fielding statistics are pretty dull stuff, but when you have a .981 fielding percentage, as Fernandez did last season, it tends to stand out. After all, his was the third-highest percentage among American League shortstops.

Tuesday night, he gave the 23,956 fans in Anaheim Stadium another flawless performance. His play on Chili Davis' smash in the seventh inning was typical of his smooth style. He dropped his glove down just as the ball got to him, the ball hit it and popped up into the air.

But Fernandez calmly reached up to grab it and threw out Davis, another difficult play made to look simple.

But batting?

Fernandez's average always has been respectable. He has a .299 career average. But power hitting? Forget it.

Coming into Tuesday's game with the Angels, Fernandez had a total of 28 home runs in his six major league seasons. His career high for a season is 10 in 1985 and he had just five in each of the past two seasons.

And maybe that's what makes his performance at the plate Tuesday all the more remarkable. Fernandez hit two home runs and drove in three runs, helping Toronto to a 6-2 victory over the Angels.

"He's the best all-around shortstop," Blue Jay starting pitcher Jimmy Key said. "He's a big part of our offense and certainly he's a big part of our defense."

Fernandez never had hit two home runs in a major league game before. But Tuesday he did it in consecutive at-bats off Angel starter Kirk McCaskill.

McCaskill always has had trouble with Fernandez, who is 18 for 35 with three home runs in his career against the Angel right-hander.

His first homer, in the first inning, came on a full count and drove in Junior Felix, who had reached on an infield single.

The Blue Jays scored three runs in the first and added a fourth on a homer by Nelson Liriano in the second.

After Felix grounded out, Fernandez again pushed the count three and two, then belted McCaskill's next pitch over the right-field fence.

Two at-bats, two home runs, Fernandez's fourth and fifth of the season.

"He's swinging the bat well now," Toronto Manager Cito Gaston said. "We need Tony to hit in order to win."

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