Tampa Bay Rays praise 'prodigious' Felix Hernandez
No strangers to perfect games, Tampa Bay Rays pay respects to Felix Hernandez.
Seattle Times staff columnist
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More than any team in baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays can appreciate what Felix Hernandez accomplished Wednesday. They've been victimized so many times by perfection that they should trademark the word perfecto.
The Rays have done two things with regularity over the past half decade — win and inspire perfect games. They're working on their fifth straight winning season. In an odd contradiction, they've also been the victims of three perfect games and one no-hitter since 2009. Add the no-hitter former Rays pitcher Matt Garza threw for them in 2010, and scoreboards full of zeros are almost common for this franchise.
For sure, the Rays know perfection. So when they laud Hernandez's performance, it means something.
"His stuff, man, is electric," said center fielder B.J. Upton, who was 0 for 3 with a strikeout against Hernandez. "That's just the bottom line."
The Rays, who didn't start regulars Desmond Jennings and Jeff Keppinger, entered the game with a common game plan against King Felix. They wanted to find a fastball early and swing away because they know his secondary pitches are often too tough to handle. They expected 60 percent of his pitches to be fastballs. Instead, of the 113 pitches that Hernandez threw, most were off speed. It was by design. Catcher John Jaso, formerly with the Rays, knew Tampa Bay's strategy, and he wanted Hernandez to throw the hitters off. And did he ever, with an array of curveballs, sliders and wicked change-ups, all as sharp as they've been all season.
"I've been on the Rays before," Jaso said. "I know their approach against Felix. It's to hit that fastball and hit it early. You don't want to go to the secondary stuff because that's what gets you out."
Hernandez kept the Rays off balance all game, struck out 12, yielded just three three-ball counts and allowed only a few batted balls that were potential hits.
Rays manager Joe Maddon was ejected in the seventh inning for arguing strike calls by umpire Rob Drake. After the game, he complained of Hernandez being allowed too big of a strike zone to left-handed hitters, but the manager also praised the pitcher for being "prodigious" on this day.
"I saw one (fastball) out of nine pitches," shortstop Elliot Johnson said. "They all look like fastballs out of his hand, but it winds up being a breaking ball, or that split-finger-looking changeup — whatever that thing is."
The Rays are perfect-game connoisseurs. They've tasted them from lefties (Mark Buehrle in 2009, Dallas Braden in 2010), and now a righty has aced them. There have been only 23 perfect games in Major League Baseball history. Six of them have come since 2009, and the Rays have been the victim in three of them. They're the first team ever to have fallen to three regular-season perfect games, and they've only been around for 15 years.
What did the Rays do to deserve this?
Actually, when considering recent history, the Rays have been lucky this season. This was the third perfect game of 2012, and Tampa Bay has only been involved in one of them. The Mariners, who were on the receiving end of Philip Humber's gem in April, have witnessed the pleasant side of perfection for the first time. This marks the first time in MLB history that a team has experienced both sides of perfection in the same season.
Both those perfect games occurred at Safeco Field, as did the Mariners' six-pitcher combined no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers in June. It has been a wild year for pitching greatness in Seattle. And Hernandez's was the best one yet.
"I definitely didn't see this coming today," Upton said.
Later, he said of Hernandez, "He's going to go down in the history books."
The Rays could only tip their cap to Hernandez. Over the past four seasons, they've had to do that quite a bit.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @JerryBrewer.
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