One mistake haunts Felix Hernandez and Mariners
Former teammate beats Felix Hernandez with a big homer
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle @ New York Yankees, 1:05 p.m., ROOT
NEW YORK — Felix Hernandez was still kicking himself long after throwing a sinker that didn't sink.
Not only did it cost his Seattle team an eventual 6-2 defeat Friday night against the New York Yankees, but the non-sinking fastball one-time Mariners mentor Raul Ibanez belted for a three-run homer wound up costing Hernandez bragging rights the next time the pair chat.
Hernandez said he'll still pick up the phone the next time Ibanez, who turns 40 next month, is on the other line. But he'll be talking to himself for a bit about the one pitch he threw in this affair that truly got away.
"That was a mistake," he said. "I tried to throw a sinker, the ball didn't move and stayed in the middle of the plate. One pitch, game over."
Up to that point, Hernandez was doing all he could once again to position the Mariners for an upset victory in a game they really were being outplayed in. Seattle had only seven hits all night and had squandered some early chances against Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda.
But with Hernandez in shutdown mode, a go-ahead solo home run to right by Mariners catcher Jesus Montero in the sixth inning looked to be the breakthrough needed. Then, with two on and two out in the bottom of the frame, Ibanez needed one pitch to turn a 2-1 Mariners lead into a 4-2 deficit.
Andruw Jones closed out the scoring with a two-run, pinch-hit homer off relief pitcher Steve Delabar. Hernandez lasted 6-2/3 innings and took his first defeat in four starts at the new Yankee Stadium — opened in 2009 — and only his second defeat in six starts at either this venue or the old Yankee Stadium.
"That pitch, if I could take it back, I'd take it back," said Hernandez, who didn't turn around to watch the ball leave the park after it was hit. "I'd just hit my spot, outside the zone next time."
Hernandez acknowledged that Ibanez — who had 70 home runs with the Phillies in three years since leaving Seattle after the 2008 season — is "a pretty good hitter" he can't afford to throw mistakes to.
After a slow spring, Ibanez has six home runs already this season for a Yankees squad that signed him after the Phillies let him go as a free agent.
Several of Ibanez's big hits have come in key situations. But after striking out against Hernandez in a patient prior at-bat, Ibanez said Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long told him he was jumping out front on pitches too quickly.
Ibanez put it in his mind to hang back just a little and not try to do too much. That didn't stop him from driving Hernandez's first pitch over the wall in right center.
"You can stay aggressive without getting overly aggressive," Ibanez said. "It's a fine line, but it's a balance."
Ibanez spent years in Seattle chatting with Hernandez when he first arrived in the big leagues, trying to show him how to comport himself. But when it comes to actually knowing him as a pitcher, his personal connection doesn't lend much of an advantage.
Ibanez was 1 for 5 lifetime against Hernandez before the home run, including three at-bats in a Safeco Field game last year with the Phillies.
"I got to play behind him," Ibanez said. "But when we played him last year, someone said, 'Hey what's Felix do?' and I said, 'I have no idea, I'm in the outfield. I've got to watch the video.'
"I know he's really good," Ibanez added. "You just have to watch the video and go off of scouting reports and stuff."
The Mariners had their chances to get to Kuroda long before Ibanez turned around a one-run game. Dustin Ackley had homered on the third pitch of the night before the Yankees tied it up 1-1 in the bottom of the first.
But in the second inning, the Mariners got two on with none out, only to see Justin Smoak pop out, Mike Carp fly out and Michael Saunders ground out. Then, in the fifth, the Mariners loaded the bases with one out before Brendan Ryan went down swinging and Ichiro grounded into a fielder's choice.
Carp had helped keep things tied in the fourth after the Yankees greeted Hernandez with three consecutive singles. Alex Rodriguez tried to score from second on the last of those and left fielder Carp threw him out at the plate on the first real test of his previously sprained shoulder.
"That's the first time and I let it go right on the money," Carp said.
But it wasn't enough, even after Montero went deep.
"We had a first-and-second situation with nobody out and a bases-loaded situation with one out and we don't score a run," Mariners manager Erc Wedge said. "It could have been the difference right there. In a tight ballgame like that, you squeeze one run across both those innings and it's a different feel, a different ballgame.
"We didn't get it done."
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @gbakermariners.
Read his daily blog at seattletimes.com/Mariners