ANAHEIM, Calif. – Sitting amid red-clad fans and green seats in Angel Stadium was a man wearing a Mariners cap and a yellow T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Long Live The King,” and holding a yellow placard with a large blue “K” and a crown.
Despite pitching just four innings, Felix Hernandez did not disappoint at least one fan here Sunday.
In his first appearance in 20 days, Hernandez tied his season-high of 10 strikeouts, against the Los Angeles Angels — thus becoming the first pitcher in major-league history to amass 10 strikeouts in a four-inning start.
But the Mariners needed Justin Smoak’s two-run home run and effective relief to earn a 3-2 victory that ended the team’s longest road trip of the season.
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Hernandez had not pitched since straining his oblique muscle Sept. 2. in Kansas City. He rested for a week, then threw on flat ground and in two bullpen sessions before returning to the rotation.
Against the Angels, Hernandez conceded one run and one hit but walked four batters and hit one while throwing 92 pitches.
“He’s just finding his rhythm and mechanics,” catcher Mike Zunino said. “But his stuff was just electric. He looked strong and was able to attack hitters with everything.”
“I was trying not to overthrow,” the right-hander said. “The fastball was a little up but the curveball was there. The slider was there. The change-up was there.”
A swarm of bees interrupted Hernandez’s return, congregating in right field and delaying the game for 23 minutes in the bottom of the third inning.
Once play resumed, the Angels loaded the bases on two walks and an error with two out. But Hernandez made Kole Calhoun fly out to end the inning.
The infestation helped limit Hernandez’s innings.
“He worked hard and there was a lot of stop and go with the bees,” Mariners’ manager Eric Wedge said. “But he checked out fine.”
Wedge added that Hernandez is sound enough to pitch Friday night at Safeco Field against Oakland.
“I made sure I told him that as I was taking him out,” Wedge said, “so he wouldn’t bite my head off.”
The switch-hitting Smoak broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth with his 18th home run — his first as a right-handed batter after a season of struggling with his swing.
“It really hasn’t been good all season,” Smoak said. “It’s all about getting that feel you want to have day-in and day-out, and trying to stay behind the ball. For the most part this year, I’ve been trying to go get everything right-handed. It’s something I did left-handed last year that I ironed out.”
After Smoak’s home run, the Angels put the potential tying runs at first and second bases in the seventh, and the possible tying and go-ahead runs in the same positions in the eighth following a Calhoun home run, yet failed to score.
Five relievers combined to strike out five Angels in five innings. Oliver Perez received the win and Danny Farquhar earned his 15th save.
“You like people in the bullpen who can strike hitters out,” Wedge said. “We’ve got a number of different guys who can do that. What they don’t have is experience. With experience, I think they’ll have a great amount of success.”