Eric Thames homers in eighth as Felix Hernandez improves to 4-0 in 1-0 games this season.
MINNEAPOLIS — Three times in the first five innings of the Mariners-Minnesota Twins game Monday night, an ominous black helicopter appeared and hovered above a building several blocks from Target Field. The United States Special Operations Command is conducting urban training missions here and in nearby St. Paul this week, and the helicopter appeared to be part of that force.
Were they training, or sneaking a free look at the game? With strong pairs of binoculars, the crew could have monitored Franklin Gutierrez’s encouraging return to the Mariners after almost two months away with a concussion, plus more Felix Hernandez dominance.
Hernandez pitched a five-hit shutout for the 1-0 victory, becoming the third pitcher since 1969 to win four 1-0 games in a season. But too much early-count swinging and too little production by the punchless Mariners, who managed only three hits against winless Twins starter Liam Hendricks, made the game closer than it needed to be.
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Hendricks matched Hernandez for scoreless innings until Eric Thames sliced an opposite-field homer to left in the eighth, his fourth homer since joining the Mariners in a July 30 trade from Toronto. The homer followed Hernandez pitching out of a runner-at-third, no-out jam in the seventh. Hernandez (13-5) leads the majors with five shutouts, all since June 28, and hasn’t lost since June 12.
“Before I came here, I only heard of his pitching line, day in and day out,” Thames said.”Seeing it for myself, I don’t know what he’s throwing. From the outfield, it’s weird. You see it. Guys are swinging through it. On video, I see how much it moves. He’s the real deal. That’s why he’s King Felix. I’m officially a believer.”
And Gutierrez? He singled on his first swing, stole two bases, and robbed Trevor Plouffe of an extra-base hit with a leaping catch at the wall in front of the Mariners bullpen in the third. His only misstep: Getting thrown out at third by center fielder Denard Span on a fly ball to end the ninth.
Gutierrez played on after Hendricks drilled him in the left hand with a fastball in the sixth, and he ducked at first base every time Hendricks threw over — no surprise, since a Franklin Morales pickoff throw gave him the concussion in the first place.
“It’s human nature,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “The guy got clipped pretty good over there and missed a lot of time. The flip side of it is, he stole a couple of bases for us. He didn’t have any fear of getting back out there and pushing the envelope a little bit.”
Gutierrez, his left hand wrapped in ice after the game, said he was fine. “I didn’t enjoy the hit by pitch,” he said. “Other than that, I enjoyed how Felix pitched today.”
Moments later, Hernandez — who threw up his arms as if signaling a touchdown when Gutierrez made the catch — cruised by and said, “Thank you, man, thank you. Love you man, love you.”
Hernandez needed it on a night the unimpressive Hendricks (0-7, 6.02) baffled the Mariners. A right-hander from Australia, Hendricks stands as the only starting pitcher in Twins franchise history to lose his first nine major-league decisions. Hendricks also pitched a complete game, his first, as play took only two hours and 10 minutes.
The seventh inning featured Hernandez at his best. Justin Morneau led off with a triple beyond Gutierrez’s reach in center, a ball hit so well that Hernandez spun in disgust on contact. “Yeah, I thought it was out,” Hernandez said. “You see my reaction? I was like, oh, man.”
Then Hernandez needed only five pitches to draw three ground balls and end the inning, the second at second baseman Dustin Ackley, playing close but not completely in at bench coach Robby Thompson’s direction.
“We knew we had to make it difficult on the runner and the third-base coach to try to make a decision there,” Wedge said. “Robby did a good job regarding the depth and where we put the guys, and the guys made the plays. But it starts with Felix. He has to make the pitches.”
That hasn’t been a problem for a while.
|King of 1-0 wins|
|Felix Hernandez is the third pitcher since 1969 to win four 1-0 games in a season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.|
|Felix Hernandez, Seattle||2012|
|Bert Blyleven, Minn.-Texas||1976|
|Ferguson Jenkins, Texas||1974|