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Thankfully, Felix Hernandez is a dominant Seattle sports star
I have this argument with friends all the time. Actually, it's more like a lament.
When the Sonics left four years ago and became the Oklahoma City Thunder, the most unfortunate part was that we lost Kevin Durant, who was destined to be the city's next transcendent star, an enchanting athlete who would brand Seattle sports in a positive manner, the next Ken Griffey Jr., Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton, Ichiro, etc., in terms of making us undeniably relevant. Without Durant, Seattle is currently a city without a superstar, and not coincidentally, it's a city without a marquee team.
But the argument is where Felix Hernandez fits into this conversation. He's something short of a superstar, but he's one of the best pitchers in baseball, a 2010 Cy Young Award winner, and at 26, he's only getting better and more mature.
Does he influence winning? Well, that's the problem. The Mariners have yet to even sniff the playoffs with King Felix, but in baseball, it's impossible to expect a starting pitcher,who makes 32-35 starts a year, to carry a team. Hernandez has done his job. Over the past four seasons, Hernandez has a 49-32 record with a 2.67 ERA, 13 complete games and 722 strikeouts in 774 1/3 innings. And during this span, the Mariners have just one winning season and an overall record of 225-290 (.437 winning percentage). Hernandez is the ace of, well, what?
What are the Mariners? A frustrating, humiliating mess most of the time. But on nights that King Felix pitches, they're a competent baseball team, even though they've blown so many possible victories over the years by not scoring enough runs to support his stellar pitching.
So, the easy argument-- which I disagree with --is to say that Hernandez isn't a superstar because the Mariners don't win enough, and he isn't a can't-miss performer who dominates highlight reels across the nation. Even though he's been among the game's best for a while, I'm not sure the nation even understands how great this kid is because others probably look at his record and think, "What's the big deal?" Of course, pitchers can only control half of what it takes to win, and Hernandez has done enough over the past four years to have much more than 49 victories on his record. But these circumstances shouldn't limit how special he is, not to the people who watch him regularly and rely on him to provide some rare Mariners' excellence once every five days.
King Felix, the ace of despair, was at his best Saturday night, throwing a one-hitter over eight innings, striking out nine Minnesota batters, as the Mariners snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 7-0 victory at Safeco Field.
In his last five starts, Hernandez is 2-1 with a 0.95 ERA. Only one of his seven starts this season has been sub-standard. On April 7 against Oakland, in the middle of a stretch of three straight starts against the same team, Hernandez allowed six earned runs in 6 1/3 innings. Since then, he has been ridiculous. Overall, Hernandez is 3-1 with a 1.89 ERA, and really, he should be 6-1. In his three no-decisions, King Felix has an 0.75 ERA.
This incredible early start is a positive sign for a pitcher who traditionally picks up steam as the season progresses. It's even better for local sports fans who are starved for excellence. Hernandez's numbers speak for themselves, but during the prolonged period of transition in Seattle sports, it's appropriate that we say more to Hernandez for what he has done to entertain the frustrated masses.
Transcendent superstar or not, you're special. You're the best in Seattle right now.