Felix Hernandez's perfect game was the highlight of another difficult season for the Mariners.

In many ways, the mid-August perfect game Felix Hernandez threw against the Tampa Bay Rays at a sparsely-filled Safeco Field was not the highlight of the Mariners season.

The real highlight came six days later, when Hernandez stepped back on a mound for the first time in front of 39,204 screaming fans clad in yellow T-shirts to honor their “King.” It was a glimpse of all that is possible for the Mariners, who won their seventh in a row that night in what became an eight-game August streak with a homegrown ace on the hill and an energized crowd cheering for games that suddenly mattered.

But, alas, the fun stopped in September when the Mariners faced a string of contenders, went 11-18 and finished in last place in the American League West with a 75-87 record.

The M’s traded for Kendrys Morales and signed Jason Bay but were outbid for the big free agents. The King, just 26, is still in Seattle, though.

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There was talk at the winter meetings of a Hernandez contract extension, but that was shut down quickly. As 2012 draws to a close, there is no sense of how close Seattle is to a new pact with a pitcher whose deal runs out after 2014.

And that next deal Hernandez signs — whether with Seattle or elsewhere — could largely determine how his 27-up, 27-down mid-August performance is remembered. Will history view Hernandez’s post-perfection “Felixing” pose — balanced on one leg, arms raised to the heavens in victory — as the launching of a new Mariners era, or just another fleeting moment in a franchise’s lifetime of missed opportunity?

Geoff Baker