The Seattle Mariners’ passing of the guard might have been no more evident than what was transpiring Saturday night at T-Mobile Park.
There was 45-year-old Ichiro, honored before the game with the club’s franchise achievement award before he rendered a passionate, and admittedly nervous, speech of more than five minutes, all in English. Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez were here, too.
Then 33-year-old Felix Hernandez took the mound for what could very well be one of his final starts in Seattle (at least with a Mariners jersey) before his $175 million contract expires at the end of the season.
But amid the Mariners’ current youth movement, one that’s made it seem like ages ago when these two potential Hall of Famers (surely for Ichiro, much less so for Hernandez) were in their respective primes, Hernandez gifted Seattle with a throwback performance less than a week after one of the worst outings of his career.
“I needed that one – so bad,” Hernandez said. “That felt really good.
“That was as good as it’s been in a while.”
It was also so vintage because Hernandez allowed just one run in seven innings against the White Sox on Saturday night, but like so many outings over his 15-year career, he did all that and still didn’t get a win.
It took extra innings, but the Mariners didn’t completely sour his outing after Omar Narvaez, against his former team, homered off the top of the wall in right-center field with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning for a 2-1 victory.
It was quickly appealed whether Narvaez touched home plate or not, but the umpires eventually signaled that the game was over. It was Narvaez’s 21st home run of the season, and his first career walkoff, with a Gatorade shower in the dugout ensuing.
But back to Hernandez.
This was the 131st time in The King’s career he has pitched at least seven innings while allowing one earned run or fewer. Of those 131 outings, Hernandez has 89 wins and now 35 no decisions to go with seven losses (including that stellar April start when the Mariners lost 1-0 to the Padres).
So, yeah, this was too familiar for Felix. His 35 no decisions in such outings trail only Roger Clemens (38), Don Sutton (38) and Greg Maddux (37) for most in MLB history.
And Hernandez has almost half as many starts as any of those other pitchers.
But he’s never come off, at least publicly, as disgusted or dismayed despite the lack of run support he’s continuously received in his career. Saturday night was no different.
“It’s part of the game,” Hernandez said. “I bet Roger and Maddux and those guys never said anything about it. It’s just part of the game.”
Shed Long finally gave the Mariners (61-88) a lead when he went opposite field for a solo home run, the third of his career, to end the scoreless tie in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Hernandez ran into trouble against the heart of Chicago’s order in the seventh when Jose Abreu singled and Yoan Moncada followed with a double. Hernandez got Eloy Jimenez to ground out while keeping the runners at second and third before walking James McCann after a nine-pitch battle.
Hernandez should have been heading back to the dugout, though, when Zack Collins followed by hitting a ground ball to Dee Gordon with one out and the bases loaded. But Gordon didn’t exchange it cleanly to J.P. Crawford at second base and Collins just beat the throw to first for an RBI fielder’s choice, tying the game.
“The story of the game was pitching, driven by The King,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Great outing by Felix Hernandez. Obviously as good as we’ve seen him all year.
“Happy for him. He’s a great competitor and he had a really good outing.”
This was less than a week after Hernandez pitched in the most lopsided loss in Mariners history, when the Astros won 21-1 after Hernandez allowed 11 runs (seven earned) in two innings.
So Hernandez needed this, if only to give another glimpse of his once golden arm.
Servais was a scout in the Rangers’ organization in 2005 when one of his responsibilities included providing player reports of all the Mariners’ major- and minor-league players, among those from other teams. The best score any player can receive (based on their hitting, power, running, fielding and throwing) is 80.
Servais said he gave just two players perfect grades that year. One was Ichiro, the other was 19-year-old Hernandez, whom he had scouted at Class AAA Tacoma.
“When you put 80 on somebody, you’re saying this guy has a chance to go to the Hall of Fame,” Servais said.
Now the Mariners are hoping there are a few more 80-grade players amid their stock of prospects, maybe a few who can take the gauntlet as their next franchise icons.
Because their latest one might have pitched his final game in Seattle once this month ends.
– After becoming the second player in MLB history to hit a home run in each of the first three games of his career, rookie outfielder Kyle Lewis went hitless for the first time in his five games since being promoted from Class AA Arkansas. But he did reach base with a walk.
– Saturday marked the anniversary of when Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr. became the first father-son duo in MLB history to hit back-to-back home runs in a game.