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Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - Page updated at 11:30 p.m.

After perfect game, Felix Hernandez's return to mound stirs excitement

By Geoff Baker
Seattle Times staff reporter

The line outside Safeco Field stretched three-quarters of the ballpark's length down First Avenue as fans waited for a chance to see Felix Hernandez pitch again.

The first 34,000 received free "King of Perfection" T-shirts and a "K" card to wave whenever Hernandez tried for a strikeout. The buildup to Hernandez's first outing since his perfect game last week gave Tuesday's affair the feel of a playoff game in the hours leading up to it.

"It's fun to see this many people out at a Mariners game this late in the season," said Josh Naylor, 33. "We haven't had too many chances to have fun like this."

Inside the ballpark, Mariners manager Eric Wedge told reporters the game would indeed have a different type of feel for Hernandez and his players.

"In a way it is a celebration tonight by the fans for Felix and for the organization," Wedge said. "I'm sure we're going to have a big turnout and it should be a memorable experience for everybody. I hope we come out and play well and give ourselves every opportunity to win the ballgame, and I hope everybody has a nice time."

Wedge said he's pleased with the all-around strong play by his squad, especially at home. Including Tuesday's 5-1 win, the Mariners have won 14 of 15 at Safeco Field — the best 15-game stretch at home in club history — and Monday night moved over .500 there for the first time since April 18.

"We had a hump there that we have to get over and you (media) guys know that because you beat the hell out of it for a while, and rightfully so," Wedge said. "But we had to get over that, and they did. And they did with flying colors."

Notes

• Hernandez gave up a single to the game's first batter, Jason Kipnis, preventing him from clinching a club record for consecutive hitters retired. Hernandez had retired 32 batters in a row heading into the game — 27 in the perfect game and his final five against the Angels in a prior outing — to sit right behind the Mariners record of 33 set by John Montague in 1977.

• Hernandez caused a bit of a stir on Tuesday when he went on Sports Radio KJR's Mitch in the Morning show and made a "promise" to host Mitch Levy that he'd be staying in Seattle.

"You guys will be happy, I'm not going nowhere," Hernandez told Levy.

"You promise us?" Levy said.

"Yeah, I promise," Hernandez replied. "I'm not going nowhere."

Hernandez has two years remaining after this season on his five-year, $78 million extension signed after the 2009 season. General manager Jack Zduriencik has maintained he will not trade the pitcher.

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com.

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