SAUGET — Perhaps still feeling the effects of a six-hour bus ride from Rockford, Gateway catcher Landon Hernandez didn't feel well before the Grizzlies game on Saturday night.
Four innings later, it was the River City Rascals who were feeling a little queasy.
The 26-year-old Hernandez became the fourth player in franchise history to hit three home runs in a game and set a team record with eight RBIs, as Gateway romped to a 14-4 win before a crowd of 5,027 fans at GCS Ballpark.
"Sometimes you get to the ballpark and you just don't feel that good. Once the game got started, that all changed,'' Hernandez said during batting practice Sunday. "Actually, I have hit three in a game before -- in little league -- so it had been awhile. It was even better because we won the game.''
A resident of Palm Desert, Calif., Hernandez hit a grand slam in the first inning, a three-run home run in the third and added a solo blast in the fourth. The last Gateway player to hit three home runs in a game was Rogelio Noris last year.
Hernandez was retired in his final two at bats of the night and entered Sunday's game with 14 home runs, 51 RBIs and a .317 bating average.
Known perhaps as the premier defensive catcher in the Frontier League, Hernandez has thrown out 23-of-37 base stealers (a 62-percent clip), while directing a talented Grizzlies' defensive unit.
Now in his fourth season with Gateway, Hernandez also had been a consistent run producer with 36 career home runs and 107 RBIs entering the 2013 season.
The difference is that after hitting .247 and .250 the last two years, Hernandez is hitting nearly 60 points higher this season.
"I feel like I've improved and that I'm a better hitter this year than I've been in the past,'' Hernandez said. "I worked hard in the offseason and a lot of it is just learning the pitchers.''
A 50th round draft in the 2008 Major League Baseball First-Year Draft by the Detroit Tigers, Hernandez spent the last two winters playing professionally in Australia.
Hernandez said he will not be returning to Australia this year, opting to attend college at the University of Hawaii to pursue a degree in coaching.
On Saturday, Hernandez put on his own highlight reel.
His grand slam in the first inning was just inside the left-field foul pole, as he gave Gateway the lead for good.
Hernandez then hit his second home run over the left-center field fence, before belting his third homer in four innings, this one sailing over the low wall in right-center field.
"The first one was off the hands a little bit, but the other two I hit well,'' Hernandez said. "Was I thinking about it the last two times up?
"I think anytime when you are in that situation, it runs through your mind. The last two times, I faced two of the top closers in the league and they got me out.''
Hernandez, who turns 27 in February, is unsure if he will be back in Sauget next season. As for the 2013 Grizzlies, he feels the sky is the limit.
"We have a very good baseball team, with a lot of good guys who love playing the game,'' Hernandez said. "Everybody gets along great. It's just the kind of clubhouse you enjoy being around every day.
"We have great team chemistry."