Felix Hernandez didn’t let the Minnesota Twins breathe until they were down to their final gasp.
But then, a tying single in the ninth by pinch-hitter Trevor Plouffe gave his team new life against the Mariners after Hernandez had run his scoreless-innings streak to 24 and was two outs from adding to it. The Mariners, couldn’t do enough offensively from there and took a 3-2 loss in 13 innings despite the best efforts of their ace.
Chris Colabello, who’d entered in the eighth as a pinch-hitter, connected for a two-run homer to right-center off Yoervis Medina in the 13th for the game’s decisive runs. It was the first home run of Colabello’s career and the first given up in the majors by Medina.
Hernandez said he felt great all game, especially with his changeup, but left it “just a little bit up’’ to Plouffe on the tying single.
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Kendrys Morales hit a leadoff homer in the bottom of the 13th off Twins left-hander Glen Perkins, then Kyle Seager singled to put the tying run on with none out.
But Justin Smoak grounded into a 5-4-3 double play and the Mariners went on to lose for only the second time in their last 11 contests.
Hernandez struck out 11 and didn’t walk anybody, lowering his earned-run average to 2.34 and raising his innings totals to a major- league best 1532
“It was helping me real good,’’ he said of the changeup. “The breaking ball was working way better, too. The only thing was the changeup up in the ninth. That was the only problem.’’
This is the time of year Hernandez typically hits his peak, and it comes at an important time for a Mariners squad that sits five games under .500 with two more to play against a Twins team with a dismal 21-32 road record.
Nick Franklin drove in the night’s first run with a single to center off Twins starter Scott Diamond in the fifth inning. That delighted the crowd of 23,162 at Safeco Field, especially the hundreds of yellow-clad King’s Court denizens.
But Diamond and string of left-handed relief pitchers who followed him helped keep the Mariners contained.
“They’ve got some good lefties down there and they stuck with them for good reason,’’ Mariners interim manager Robby Thompson said.
Henry Blanco nearly knocked in a second run off Diamond with a drive to left-center in the seventh. But Twins center fielder Aaron Hicks made a diving snag of the ball, forcing Brendan Ryan to reverse his tracks instead of sprinting around second and likely scoring.
That was the end of the night for Diamond, whose bullpen got him out of further trouble. Hernandez just kept going.
He and Hisashi Iwakuma – who opened the first game of this series for the Mariners – had combined to not allow any earned runs against the Twins over 59 innings before Plouffe’s hit.
Minnesota watched Hernandez retire 11 in a row before Ryan Doumit’s two-out hit in the fourth. Then he set down 10 more in a row before Clete Thomas opened the eighth with a single.
“That was vintage Felix,’’ Thompson said. “And again, obviously there was not whole lot of run support for him and we squandered some opportunities.
“Had we gotten another run or two, or one more run it might have been different. I had to send him back out there for the ninth. He’d just chewed them up for eight innings.’’
Pedro Florimon opened the Minnesota ninth with a single and was bunted to second. Plouffe then lined a soft flare to center that dropped in and brought Florimon sprinting home.
Three years ago, when he won the Cy Young Award, Hernandez began a scintillating second-half push in late-July.
He also took off at this point last year, and looked like he’d run away with the Cy Young – especially after throwing a mid-August perfect game. Then he failed to win another game in the season’s final five weeks, tumbling from contention in stunning fashion.
“Physically, I feel pretty good,’’ Hernandez said. “I’ve been feeling strong. This was just one of those tough games that we lost.’’
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org