With his leg aching, Felix Hernandez finished off Minnesota in a complete-game, 2-0 victory.
Felix Hernandez limped to the mound. His quad had stiffened, and it ached with every step. But this game was his and he was finishing it.
With each measured step, the crowd of 25,215 — bundled up on a frigid night at Safeco Field — roared in approval.
The fans had paid to see the Mariners’ ace take on the Minnesota Twins on Friday night, and they were getting their money’s worth.
Hernandez dispatched one-time American League batting champ Joe Mauer with a ground ball to second base. He got cleanup hitter Brian Dozier to pop out to left — the first time he hadn’t struck out all night. And finally, with the entire crowd on its feet and cheering, Hernandez got Kennys Vargas to hit a soft comebacker that he gloved and flipped to first base.
Most Read Sports Stories
- Michigan defensive line twins Armon, Jayvon Parker announce dual commitments to UW Huskies
- Here's why Baseball Hall of Fame voters got it right with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens
- Seahawks position review: Russell Wilson is still the Seahawks quarterback for now. But who will be behind him?
- Born with a club foot, Edmonds ice dancer Jean-Luc Baker defied the odds and is ready for his first Olympics
- Gonzaga legend and Basketball Hall of Famer John Stockton draws ire for anti-vaccine comments
It was a complete game for Hernandez and a 2-0 victory for the Mariners. With the win, Seattle improved to 7-9.
“Felix pitched tonight?” manager Lloyd McClendon joked. “He was outstanding.”
It was Hernandez’s first complete game since Aug. 27, 2012, which also came against the Twins. And it was the 10th shutout of his career.
“Finally, huh?” Hernandez said.
Sore leg or not, he even gave a little celebratory hop at the end to punctuate the achievement.
It was the jumping for a couple of ground balls up the middle that made the quad tighten early in the game and left him limping.
“I’m fine,” he said. “I shouldn’t have jumped. I should’ve went back and caught them.”
There was no debate about Hernandez finishing the game. He didn’t have to cajole or convince McClendon. The Mariners had nobody up in the bullpen. They were going to let him finish what he started.
“I never talked to him once tonight,” McClendon said. “There was no pitch count to worry about. He had 90 going into the ninth inning. There was nothing to worry about.”
Hernandez finished with 102 pitches, allowing five hits. He had no walks and struck out nine.
“He was pounding the zone,” McClendon said. “His sinker was exploding in and out and I thought this was the best breaking ball he had all season. His changeup was just phenomenal. He did a great job of commanding the zone and commanding the tempo and keeping guys off balance just enough.”
Hernandez cruised through the first inning in dominating fashion, striking out the side. It was a sign of things to come, but it was surprising to Hernandez, who felt out of sorts warming up in the bullpen.
“I felt terrible in the bullpen,” he said. “But when we started the game, I was more in the strike zone and my fastball felt good and was making everything better.”
He was perfect through four innings, getting some defensive help from Logan Morrison on a leaping catch and tag at first base, and from Nelson Cruz on a tough sliding catch on a Torii Hunter flare into right field.
At that point, with his stuff and command, it seemed like Hernandez might flirt with perfection again.
“I had the stuff to throw a perfect game, but it didn’t happen,” he said.
But Trevor Plouffe ended those hopes with two outs in the fifth inning, singling to right field.
The Mariners hit several balls hard against Twins starter Phil Hughes, who went the distance. But they managed only two runs on a pair of solo homers.
Cruz continued to show why things like the marine layer and cold Puget Sound air are meaningless to his home run power.
In the second inning, Hughes made a bad mistake and left a 1-2 cut fastball over the middle of the plate. Cruz obliterated the pitch, sending a rocket into the upper deck of the left field stands. MLB statcast measured the blast at 459 feet.
“It was a line drive,” McClendon said. “He hit it hard. It was pretty impressive.”
Asked if he could hit a ball harder, Cruz gave a shy smile and replied: “I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
Hernandez has been on the wrong end of some of those Cruz homers in the past.
“Wow, unbelievable,” Hernandez said. “He told me before the game he was going to hit one. ”
Seattle made it 2-0 to lead off the fifth inning when Morrison, who has had bad luck all season, hit a home run.
“He finally hit it where someone couldn’t rob him,” McClendon said with a laugh.
“I was hoping no one was going to catch it,” Morrison said. “It was like, ‘finally.’ ”