Strategy pays off as Felix Hernandez pitches Mariners to 3-2 victory over Oakland
Felix Hernandez strikes out nine in eight innings of work
Seattle Times staff reporter
From almost the moment Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon made the announcement last week, there was plenty of debate about the decision to move Felix Hernandez’s scheduled start back a day to Friday to face the American League West-leading Oakland A’s.
Some liked it, some loathed it and others couldn’t understand the thinking behind it, no matter how much McClendon explained its reasoning.
In the days leading up to the game, the debate became a little more heated with the Mariners dropping three of four games against the Minnesota Twins.
Even with all his success against Oakland, what if Hernandez were to somehow get beat? It wasn’t implausible because the A’s came in with the best record in baseball.
An inning into the start Friday, it looked like the doubters would have their day. Hernandez had given up two runs before the Mariners had even stepped to the plate and a crowd of 32,971, including nine sections of the King’s Court, was muted in stunned disappointment.
But those were the only runs Hernandez would allow and the Mariners’ offense provided just enough run support for a 3-2 victory, ending the debate about the decision and snapping a three-game losing streak as Seattle improved to 50-43. It was the fifth time in club history a team got to 50 wins before the All-Star break.
“That was a good win,” McClendon said. “Any win is good. There’s lot of things that are significant about that. I congratulate my general manager (Jack Zduriencik) about that. I think that’s a tremendous accomplishment and a lot of the credit goes to him.”
Hernandez pitched eight innings, allowing two runs on six hits with nine strikeouts and two walks to improve to 11-2, and he now has a 2.12 ERA. It was his 11th consecutive start of at least seven innings pitched and allowing two runs or less. It’s the longest single-season streak in baseball since Gaylord Perry in 1974.
If that doesn’t qualify him to start the All-Star Game in Minneapolis on Tuesday, it’s difficult to know what more he would have needed to do. It’s difficult to think of a better candidate. Hernandez wouldn’t lobby for it.
“It would be an honor,” he said. “I’d love to do it. We’ll see.”
It wasn’t an auspicious beginning to Hernandez’s start. The second hitter he faced — Steven Vogt — crushed a 0-2 changeup into the seats for a solo homer.
“It was not good,” Hernandez said. “It was middle in and he hit it pretty good.”
Josh Donaldson followed with a single and later scored on a two-out ground ball from Jed Lowrie that sneaked through the infield.
But that was it. Hernandez never allowed another A’s player to score, giving up three more hits over the next seven innings pitched.
“I locked in,” Hernandez said. “I was throwing a lot of strikes. I felt really good. The crowd was unbelievable.”
And his teammates eventually gave him a lead.
Logan Morrison led off the second inning with a solo homer on a 3-2 fastball to trim the deficit to 2-1.
“When you’re 3-2 and you have a guy like that on the mound, you are just telling yourself: ‘See him up, see him in the middle,’ ” Morrison said. “I got him good enough to go out.”
Seattle tied the game an inning later, manufacturing a run as Brad Miller led off with a hustling double. Mike Zunino moved Miller to third with a ground ball. Endy Chavez scored Miller with a sacrifice fly.
The Mariners took the lead with a rare hit with a runner in scoring position. James Jones doubled to left with two outs in the sixth and Robinson Cano drove him home with a bloop double that landed right on the left-field line.
“We’ve hit a lot of balls hard that didn’t find holes,” McClendon said. “It was nice to see one of those fall in. We were certainly due for one of those.”
Cano’s double was just the Mariners’ second hit in 34 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
“We’ve been hitting the ball too hard the past few days, just right at guys,” Cano said. “You are just hoping to get a single. I was just thinking something over the plate. I know that guy is nasty. He’s a guy you have to be ready to hit.”
Hernandez pitched the eighth, but the game had to be paused as he battled cramps in his calf.
“We’ve seen that guy all year,” Cano said. “It’s unbelievable. He gets the cramp in that inning and he finishes. That’s a guy you want to play behind. Those are things that motivate you to come here every day and go out there and compete.”
The victory was anything but easy. With two outs and the tying run just 90 feet away in the ninth, Fernando Rodney rung up Nick Punto on a 3-2 fastball on the inside corner. Punto took exception and spiked his helmet, yelling at home-plate ump James Hoye.
Was it a strike?
“Just look at it,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Tough way to end a game.”
The Mariners had a difference of opinion.
“I thought it was in upper right-hand quadrant of the zone,” said catcher Mike Zunino.
And Rodney? With a serious face, he replied: “All the pitches were strikes.”
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