Felix Hernandez pitched a classic gem, seven scoreless innings in an eventaul 12-inning win. Hernandez was determined to not let the Blue Jays, and their massive fan support, sweep the Mariners in perhaps his biggest game of the season.
Felix Hernandez had a maelstrom of thoughts swirling in his brain as he took the mound Wednesday afternoon against the Toronto Blue Jays.
First, he knew it was a must-win game for the retreating Mariners to have any semblance of hope in the wild-card race. And he knew that this was the sort of rare meaningful game he had hungered for throughout his career – and which he had messed up just five days ago to give this homestand a disheartening kickoff.
“I wanted to win so bad,’’ Hernandez would say. “I struggled against Houston. But I was like, you know what? Forget about that. Just go out and do what you’re capable of.”
When he arrived at the ballpark, Hernandez turned to his locker mate, Franklin Gutierrez, and declared, “We’re going to win this game.”
Mostly, though, the fire that burned within Hernandez during a brilliant, seven-inning, scoreless stint that set up the Mariners’ eventual 2-1 win in 12 innings was provided by the ocean of Blue Jays fans in the stands. And the cacophony of noise emanating from them.
Perhaps speaking for most of his teammates, and certainly for the bulk of Mariners fans, Hernandez said, “Enough is enough.”
Literally, and figuratively. After he had retired Michael Saunders for what he knew would be his final batter, having blanked the Jays on two hits, Hernandez stomped off the mound, screaming, “This is my house!” while pointing emphatically at the ground.
Yes, Hernandez admitted, he was irked by the Canadian takeover of Safeco Field, in what has become an annual tradition. For starters, his rooting section was tucked into the barest corner, the trademark yellow T-shirts nearly engulfed by Blue Jay blue.
“That was the smallest King’s Court I’ve ever seen,’’ Hernandez said, shaking his head. “I never heard the King’s Court. I knew I had to step up a little bit more.
“I saw all the Blue Jay fans. I throw to first, they were booing me. I was like, ‘Come on, this is Seattle, this is not Toronto.’ I said – well, I’m not going to say that on TV.”
Hernandez said he had been quietly seething since the series opener on Monday.
“Taijuan (Walker) threw first, and they were booing Taijuan. I was like, ‘What’s going on here?’ I just wanted to say, ‘This is my house.’ ”
Hernandez handed a 1-0 lead to the Mariners’ bullpen, but in what is virtually a career trademark, the gem didn’t earn him a victory. Jose Bautista’s homer off Edwin Diaz with one out in the ninth tied the score, before the Mariners finally pushed across the winning run on Robinson Cano’s sacrifice fly in the 12th.
And so, with 10 games remaining, they cling to faint hopes of a miracle finish that would give Hernandez his first postseason experience in a career that began in 2005.
“I want to be there so bad,’’ Hernandez said, as he always does, virtually word for word, every time he is asked about that glaring omission in his otherwise brilliant career.
Hernandez said he was not thinking about the brutal start he had against the Blue Jays in a similarly vital game in Toronto in 2014, nearly two years ago to the day. He gave up eight runs (four earned) in 42/3 innings in that crippling 10-2 loss as the Mariners fought for a wild-card berth.
Coupled with the Houston game last Friday (six runs allowed, five of them earned, in a 6-0 loss), there has been some veiled whispering that Hernandez falters in big games. This start, along with the 51/3 scoreless, one-hit innings he threw in the 2014 finale against the Angels, a literal must-win game, is the counter argument.
The fact is, Hernandez has had precious few such opportunities, and the real shame is that all the rest will now come after he has moved out of his prime. Or so it appears in what has been the least dominating season of King Felix’s career.
Certainly, his effort on Wednesday should serve as a possible blueprint for Hernandez’s second act. He worked inside effectively, had command of his changeup and curveball, and great movement on his fastball. The combination had the Blue Jays off balance all day.
“I’m happy for him,’’ Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He had a tough time the last time he took the ball here when we started the homestand. He needed to kind of redeem himself and get after it, and he did.
“Hopefully he’s going to pitch in a lot of big games. There hasn’t been a lot for him over 10 years, or whatever it’s been. He needs to pitch in more of them. The more you’re in them, the more you usually get good at them.”
Hernandez has two more scheduled starts this year, and the Mariners hope to make both of them meaningful. They have two games to make up in the standings, and three teams to pass, not an ideal situation but at least a pulse. That’s all Hernandez wants, all things considered.
“We’ve still got a chance,’’ he said.
Hernandez helped give them that on Wednesday, reclaiming his house and reshaping his reputation.