The Mariners paid one more fitting tribute to Felix Hernandez before his impending departure after the season. Though it’s one he and Saturday’s starter, Marco Gonzales, could have done without.
But since Hernandez’s career was filled with so many stellar outings ruined by lack of run support — an occurrence that did not go overlooked in the process — the Mariners couldn’t avoid letting Gonzales suffer a similar fate as Hernandez in their 1-0 loss to the Oakland Athletics.
The unofficial expression originating in some form from local fans and writers is “getting Felixed,” which is basically a brilliant start by Hernandez that was ruined by teammates for any various reasons of ineptitude, though usually failure to generate even a minimal amount of runs of support. It was long-running meme before people used the word meme in this way.
Gonzales definitely got “Felixed” in his final start of a solid 2019 season. Facing an A’s team that was playing for home-field advantage in the American League wild-card game against Tampa Bay, which it clinched with the victory, Gonzales tossed seven innings, allowing one run on five hits with three walks and four strikeouts and, yep, took the loss.
“Marco was outstanding, again,” manager Scott Servais said. “Really a great way to cap off his season, unfortunately we weren’t able get him the ‘W.’ We had some chances, but we just couldn’t get the big hit.”
It’s a stinging way to lose. But in his career, Hernandez posted 131 outings where he pitched seven or more innings and allowed one earned run or fewer. He took 35 no-decisions and seven losses.
Before Saturday night’s game, Gonzales had 10 starts of seven-plus innings with one run or fewer allowed in his career. He had a 9-1 record in those games with zero no-decisions.
“I just wanted to go out and finish strong,” Gonzales said. “Give my team a chance to win one more time and hope for the best.”
Gonzales’ lone run came with one out in the third inning. On a 3-2 pitch to Ramon Laureano, Gonzales left a sinker on the inner half of the plate. Laureano hammered it over the wall in deep left-center for his 24th home run of the season.
“They grinded out Marco early in the game,” Servais said. “They really weren’t swinging much and drove the pitch count up there, but I was really glad to get seven innings and keep them right there.”
It appeared Gonzales might be done after six innings when he struck out Khris Davis on his 103rd pitch of the game. But with offseason ahead, Servais let Gonzales go one more inning. After issuing a leadoff walk to start the seventh, he got Sean Murphy to hit into a double play and struck out Sheldon Neuse to put a stamp on a solid season. He threw a career-high 118 pitches with 73 strikes.
With his outing, Gonzales set career highs in innings pitched (203) and strikeouts (147). The extra inning of scoreless work in the seventh lowered his ERA to 3.99, which wasn’t a coincidence. It was Gonzales lowest season ERA of his career. His 34 starts are tied for most in the American League and he never missed a turn in the rotation.
“My main motive was to go out and show my teammates, coaches, fans and the city just kind of what I’m made of,” he said. “My plan is to have more starts after this someday. And I want to show everybody I’m capable of doing that.”
The 200-inning mark matters to Gonzales and all starting pitchers. It’s a sign of durability and availability to their team. There is no greater goal for a pitcher than knowing he can be relied upon to take the ball every fifth day. Coming into Saturday, only 12 pitchers had reached 200 innings. Gonzales is No. 13, with four others on the verge of reaching that plateau.
With a commitment to work and conditioning in the offseason and during the season, Gonzales has built himself into this pitcher after undergoing two arm surgeries with St. Louis Cardinals, including Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss all of the 2016 season. As Servais said postgame, he has earned all of it.
“Looking back on the journey of a couple arm surgeries a couple years ago, there was a point in there where you don’t know what you are going to look like when it’s all said and done,” Gonzales said. “To even be taking the ball every fifth day, that’s a victory for me and I just never settled. I never stopped pushing forward. I expect a lot of myself. And I think that’s my best quality that I have.”
The Mariners were shut out for the 11th time this season, by starter Brett Anderson and three relievers. They had minimal scoring opportunities with Gonzales on the mound. Seattle tried for another night of ninth-inning heroics, putting the tying and winning run on base, but Tim Lopes popped out to end the game.