Keith Hernandez rooting for Phillies in World Series

NEW YORK — There won’t be any groans or sighs as Keith Hernandez watches the World Series over the next two weeks. This Phillies team, once a source of concern, now has Keith Hernandez fixed.

Count Hernandez is among those impressed with the Phillies, who managed to turn an 87-win regular season into a National League pennant. But it wasn’t always smooth sailing. In August, during a lighter season of Mets coverage, Hernandez — a color commentator for SNY since 2006 — said he was not scheduled to work the upcoming Mets-Phillies series after telling network executives, “I hate doing the Phillies.” games.”

“Do you hate Phillies games?” entertainer Gary Cohen asked in response.

“They never seem to disappoint,” Hernandez replied. “Basically, defensively, the Phillies haven’t been able to get it all the time.”

The comments came at the other end of the Jersey Corner, where players, coaches and fans took varying degrees of offense. Manager Rob Thomson said he respects Hernandez’s opinion, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with him. The Philadelphia Inquirer defended the Phillies’ defense in a 1,500-word op-ed. NBC Sports Philadelphia has started flashing the “Keith Hernandez Favored Fundamental Play” chart to highlight the outstanding defensive efforts over the last two months of the season.

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For the Phillies, this is no joke. This somehow struck a nerve. As highlighted in a concurrent story, the Phillies improved from a minus-20 average as a team in May to a plus-5 OAA in July. Alec Bohm has made significant strides at third base, and the Phillies acquired Brandon Marsh to shore up the defense in center field. The position change allowed them to come together as a unit, and the pitching improvement limited the opportunity for mistakes.

“This team didn’t know how to win,” Hernandez said in a phone interview this week. “They knew how to win. They knew it was fun. … They started doing the little things because they wanted to get to the World Series. They wanted a brass ring.’

More importantly, Hernandez, an 11-time Gold Glover at first base, has said Mets broadcasts have been tweaked to change Philadelphia’s pitching staff, citing his love of “good pitching.” He also noted Bryce Harper’s return to health, Thomson’s move to manager and what he called a bit of “addition by subtraction” elsewhere on the roster. With those changes, the Phillies made the playoffs in the final week of the season, then knocked off three top-ranked teams en route to the pennant.

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Along the way, Hernandez started rooting for the Phillies despite their division rival status. As a player who spent 16 of his 17 big league seasons on the Senior Circuit, Hernandez says he’ll always root for the NL representative in the World Series — even more so if it’s an NL East team.

“I’m a National League guy,” Hernandez said. “I think if guys leave my division, it makes our division look better — ‘Hey, we have the toughest division.’ And it sure looks like it now.”

As for next season, Hernandez, who expects to sign a new deal with SNY in the coming months, fully intends to take to the TV booth alongside Cohen and Ron Darling at Citizens Bank Park.

“It was all a joke,” he said with a laugh. “I’ll be in Philly. It’s important that the three of us do the divisional games.”


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