After playing one another seven times over the past two weeks, the Seattle Mariners and Kansas City Royals knew just about all there was to know – and familiarity isn’t always good.
“I felt like I’d faced them five times before I came in today,” closer Tom Wilhelmsen said. “I’m just glad they’re leaving town.”
At the end of a back-and-forth game in which Felix Hernandez left with a three-run lead – and got no decision – Wilhelmsen finished off Seattle’s 7-6 win with his 14th save.
It wasn’t an easy one.
Up by two runs, Wilhelmsen gave up one run and had the tying run at second base before getting the final two outs, giving a crowd of 19,402 at Safeco Field a final scare in a day filled with them.
“I was trying to get my wife to go into labor early,” Wilhelmsen deadpanned.
Well, Cassie is due when the Mariners are in New York next week, so an early birth would be, uh, convenient. But what has gone as hoped for Seattle in 2012?
If Wilhelmsen spooked the fans in the ninth, Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer made them seize up in the fourth inning when his line drive up the middle caromed off Hernandez for an infield hit.
Herrnandez grabbed his left hand – yes, his glove hand – and talked to trainers and manager Eric Wedge behind the mound.
Was he hurt badly?
“He was mad, I can tell you that,” Wedge said.
A few hours later, Hernandez was still angry.
“Every game, somebody’s hitting a line drive at me,” he said. “I’m mad. I’m tired of that. I can’t even squeeze that hand right now.”
X-rays were negative for fractures, and Hernandez stayed in the game, but for the remainder of his time he asked teammates to lob him the ball on return throws.
“I caught a lot of them bare-handed,” Felix said. “It hurt, but it’s just a bruise.”
After seven innings and 101 pitches, Hernandez left the game with a 5-2 lead boosted by Kyle Seager’s bases-loaded, two-out single in the bottom of the seventh.
It was Seager’s third hit, and made Wedge’s decision easier.
“We didn’t want to extend Felix much beyond a hundred pitches today,” he said. “It worked out well.”
Until Brandon League and Oliver Perez lost every bit of that three-run lead in the eighth inning.
League allowed three hits and Perez came in with what was then a two-run lead. His wild pitch moved two runners up a base, and a Hosmer single scored them both.
Almost as bad, Perez’s mind went blank and didn’t back up the plate. When Trayvon Robinson’s throw hopped past catcher Miguel Olivo, it bounced around until Hosmer – the potential go-ahead run – had reached third base.
Perez got out of that inning to strand Hosmer but the game was tied.
Left-hander Jose Mijares came in for Kansas City, and left-handed hitting Mike Carp greeted him with his third hit of the day – an opposite field double that short-hopped the fence.
“His timing has been coming around, but that showed a lot of strength, hitting it over the left fielder’s head,” Wedge said.
When Robinson put down a bunt and Mijares threw it away, pinch-runner Munenori Kawaski scored. Brendan Ryan bunted Robinson to third base and Casper Wells singled him home.
For the second time in the game, the Mariners seemed to have more than enough runs.
“The last game of the series, we’d beaten them six out of seven games and you knew coming in it was going to be tough today and it was a fight, all day,” Wedge said. “I’m glad we were the home team and would have had the last at-bat.”
Had they held their three-run lead after seven, Hernandez would have won his 10th game. Instead, it was just another rock-solid no-decision – seven innings, one run allowed, six strikeouts.
For Felix, it was the sixth time this year he’d worked at least seven innings, allowed one run or fewer, and earned a no-decision. If he’d won half of those, he’d be 12-4 today. If he’d won them all, he’d be 16-4.
Despite the sore wrist and no-decision, Hernandez wasn’t complaining.
“We’re doing good things. We’re playing the right way,” he said.
With help from Kansas City, which is 1-7 against Seattle in the past 14 games, the Mariners have won 10 times in that span. Since the All-Star break, the Mariners’ 11-4 record is second in the American League to Oakland’s 12-3.
That’s the kind of success these Mariners are unfamiliar with – which might be a good thing.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Mariners scored 52 runs in eight games against the Royals this month. Seattle has scored 45 runs in 16 games this month against everyone firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @LarryLaRue