Hernandez becomes fourth-youngest pitcher to reach milestone, and Seattle earns three-game sweep against Athletics.
Facing a full count against the leadoff hitter in the fifth inning of what was by his standards a gritty start, Felix Hernandez paused for a beat and took a deep breath.
The right-handed Seattle pitcher was stuck on four strikeouts on the day and, more pressingly, on 1,999 for his career. And though Hernandez said afterward he was more focused on giving his mom and wife the joint Mother’s Day present of a win, the significance of the milestone crept in.
“I knew it,” Hernandez said. “I knew I had four and I needed five to do that. It was a pretty special moment.”
San Diego @ Seattle, 7:10 p.m., ROOT Sports
With a pink sea of K signs bobbing away in the left-field corner, Hernandez struck Sam Fuld out looking. And at 29 years and 32 days of age, the righty became the fourth-youngest pitcher to reach the 2,000-strikeout milestone, after Bert Blyleven, Sam McDowell and Walter Johnson and before Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax.
Hernandez also improved to 6-0 and the Mariners completed their first home-series sweep of the year with a 4-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Sunday afternoon at Safeco Field.
“From afar, when I was on the other side, I knew (Hernandez) was good,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said, “but I didn’t know he was this great of a competitor and an even better teammate.
“The accolades just keep coming and coming with this guy. He’s a delight to watch every fifth day. I think we’re all blessed. I’m not sure if everybody realizes what he’s actually doing, but this guy’s real, real good.”
The sweep edged Seattle’s record closer to .500 at 14-17 and followed getting swept in a four-game series in Houston and series loss in Anaheim.
I knew it. I knew I had four and I needed five to do that. It was a pretty special moment.” - Felix Hernandez
From the start, Hernandez had a tentative grip on his usual overwhelming dominance. His first three pitches of the game were wild and loose. Hernandez shook his whole body into focus and got Billy Burns to ground out to third baseman Kyle Seager.
Marcus Semien ended the Felix No-Hitter Watch early, drooping a floating line drive into center with one down in the top of the first. The Oakland shortstop blew Hernandez’s shutout as well, smashing a first-pitch sinker over the left-field fence to put the A’s up 1-0 in the third. Semien took him deep again in the sixth to cut Seattle’s lead to 4-2.
After Semien’s first home run, Hernandez bounced back immediately with a strikeout of Josh Reddick. Following the second, he induced back-to-back ground outs and retired Ike Davis with a runner on to extinguish one of Oakland’s few meaningful rallies.
“He can throw any pitch at any count,” A’s catcher Stephen Vogt said. “His breaking ball was really sharp today. That’s as sharp as I’ve seen his breaking ball. His changeup isn’t really a changeup. It’s 90 miles per hour. He changes your eye level. He gets you to chase. He’s a competitor, too. You can just see it. Both times right after he gave up home runs to Semien, you could see his demeanor change. He bore down and got nastier.
“That’s what good competitive pitchers do. When they get mad, they get better.”
Hernandez lasted seven innings, scattering five hits and a single walk while striking out six.
His teammates took one cycle through the lineup to get their bats going but gave him all the run support he needed.
After A’s starter Jesse Chavez walked Rickie Weeks to lead off the bottom of the fourth, the Mariners plated three runs on three subsequent hits: A single from Nelson Cruz, an RBI double by Seager and a two-run double by Dustin Ackley. Robinson Cano brought home Jesus Sucre with a sacrifice fly to push the lead to 4-1 in the fifth.
The stadium was still buzzing from Hernandez’s milestone moment in the top half of the frame.
The weather was pleasant on Sunday afternoon, in the low-70s and with a slight cloud cover providing steady shade as 42,831 fans chose to spend Mother’s Day at Safeco, and nearly all of them rose to their feet as the center-field video board lit up in tribute to Hernandez’s accomplishment. He tossed the ball into the home dugout as a keepsake then went back to work.
“I thought it was very cool how the stadium was,” Seager said. “The fans were all awesome. Just to kind of take a minute and break up the game to recognize how special it was.
“It’s nice when something like this happens, when you can really take a step back and put things in perspective, how special this is.”
|Felix strikeout milestones|
|No. 1||Aug. 4, 2005, at Detroit||Ivan Rodriguez|
|No. 100||April 23, 2006, vs. Detroit||Craig Monroe|
|No. 500||June 11, 2008, at Toronto||Rod Barajas|
|No. 1,000*||Aug. 25, 2010, at Boston||David Ortiz|
|No. 1,989**||May 4, 2015, at L.A. Angels||Kole Calhoun|
|No. 2,000***||May 10, 2015, vs. Oakland||Sam Fuld|
|* 4th-youngest to 1,000 **passes Johan Santana for most strikeouts by Venezuelan-born pitcher *** 4th-youngest to 2,000|