The question Felix Hernandez has had throughout his career was whether his talent was as big as his dreams, because his dreams were perfect.
On Wednesday, so was his game.
Dominant from the first batter to the last, the Seattle Mariners’ ace held the Tampa Bay Rays without a hit or walk for nine innings – retiring all 27 batters – in a 1-0 victory that pushed him into history.
It was the first perfect game in franchise history, the 23rd in major league history.
“Warming up in the bullpen before the game, everything worked,” Felix said. “Every game, I’m always thinking about a perfect game, but this is pretty awesome.”
The Mariners fans in the Safeco Field crowd of 21,889 were behind their pitcher from the outset, but somewhere along the way – much like the Mariners themselves – they realized they were watching something spectacular.
“Felix was hitting 95 mph with his fastball, throwing his change-up to right-handers and left-handers, and his curve was nasty,” catcher John Jaso said. “When he struck out Evan Longoria in the second inning with a curve, I thought the day might be special.”
Inning after inning, Felix set down the side in order, and after four innings had thrown only 40 pitches. After eight innings, he’d used 98 pitches.
In the end, he threw 113 – 77 for strikes.
“I don’t care what lineup you might have put out there today, it would not have had a chance,” center fielder Michael Saunders said. “His pitches were moving all over the place.
“Every time he goes out there – and this is the God’s honest truth – I expect him to throw a no-hitter. It’s like when he gives up a hit, I think, ‘Well, he’ll throw one his next start.’
“I think he expects that, too,” Saunders said.
There was one thing Hernandez needed Wednesday he couldn’t provide for himself – a run. No matter how many consecutive outs he had put up, Tampa Bay’s Jeremy Hellickson was pitching nearly as well.
Shortstop Brendan Ryan, batting .198 before his first at-bat, singled to open the third inning but, two outs later, remained at first base. With designated hitter Jesus Montero up, Ryan stole second base and scrambled all the way to third when Hellickson threw a wild pitch.
Rookie Montero singled him home for the only run of the day.
“That RBI was so important, I’ll never forget it,” Montero said. “I spent most of the rest of the game on the bench, praying with ‘Guti.’ ”
“Guti” would be Mariners teammate and fellow Venezuelan Franklin Gutierrez, an energetic sort who often spends time in the clubhouse during the game.
On this day, he stayed put in the dugout.
“I sat in one spot and didn’t move,” Gutierrez said. “I wasn’t even playing and I got nervous. That last batter, I kept thinking, ‘He’s going to do this!’ And he did it.”
Felix seemed to get stronger as he closed in on the prize. Facing the heart of the Rays’ lineup in the eighth inning – Longoria, Ben Zobrist and Carlos Peña – he struck out the side.
Opening the ninth with 24 batters retired in order, there was no one in Safeco Field unaware of the situation.
“All day, I’d been able to throw any pitch in any count for a strike,” Hernandez said. “I went out there in the ninth to throw good pitches. The fans were great, the ‘King’s Court’ was fired up.”
That particular group of fans, the yellow T-shirted denizens of the left-field corner in sections 149 and 150 when Felix pitches at Safeco Field, had all but come unglued.
The Rays opened the ninth inning with pinch-hitter Desmond Jennings.
“I was on that team that last few years,” said Jaso, who played with the Rays in 2010 and 2011. “I know how they approached Felix in the past. We used that all day.”
Jennings struck out swinging.
The Rays sent up another pinch-hitter, Jeff Keppinger. Felix got him out in front of a change-up and Keppinger grounded to shortstop – 26 batters up, 26 down.
With that crowd standing, Felix fell behind third baseman Sean Rodriguez in the count, 2-0, then evened it at 2-2 and took a little walk around the mound.
Jaso called for his slider. Hernandez threw it. Rodriguez took it for a called third strike.
“I caught that final pitch and I paused,” Jaso said. “Then I thought, ‘I can’t believe that just happened!’ ”
“Me too!” Felix chimed in, and both men laughed.
Thirty minutes after the game, Hernandez was still a little overwhelmed, almost giddy with joy.
“The only bad thing is my wife and kids flew (back to Venezuela) last week,” he said. “I’m glad it happened here at home. The fans deserved it – so did I!”
Someone pointed out that in a Mariners career that begin in 2005, the 26-year-old Hernandez had won an American League Cy Young Award and thrown a perfect game.
Hernandez didn’t miss a beat.
“The playoffs,” he said, still dreaming big. “That’s what’s next. The playoffs.”
OTHEr MAriners no-hitters
June 8, 2012
Kevin Millwood (6 innings), Charlie Furbush (7), Stephen Pryor (7), Lucas Luetge (8), Brandon League (8), Tom Wilhelmsen (9) vs. L.A. Dodgers, 1-0
April 22, 1993
Chris Bosio vs. Boston, 7-0
June 2, 1990
Randy Johnson vs. Detroit, 2-0
Other perfect games in history, B5 IN PERFECT COMPANY
Pitchers that have thrown a perfect game.
• Felix Hernandez, Seattle vs. Tampa Bay, 1-0, Aug. 15, 2012
• Matt Cain, San Francisco vs. Houston, 10-0, June 13, 2012
• Phil Humber, Chicago (AL) at Seattle, 4-0, April 21, 2012
• Roy Halladay, Philadelphia at Florida, 1-0, May 29, 2010
• Dallas Braden, Oakland vs. Tampa Bay, 4-0, May 9, 2010
• Mark Buehrle, Chicago (AL) vs. Tampa Bay, 5-0, July 23, 2009
• Randy Johnson, Arizona at Atlanta, 2-0, May 18, 2004
• David Cone, New York (AL) vs. Montreal, 6-0, July 18, 1999
• David Wells, New York (AL) vs. Minnesota, 4-0, May 17, 1998
• Kenny Rogers, Texas vs. California, 4-0, July 28, 1994
• Dennis Martinez, Montreal at Los Angeles, 2-0, July 28, 1991
• Tom Browning, Cincinnati vs. Los Angeles, 1-0, Sept. 16, 1988
• Mike Witt, California at Texas, 1-0, Sept. 30, 1984
• Len Barker, Cleveland vs. Toronto, 3-0, May 15, 1981
• Catfish Hunter, Oakland vs. Minnesota, 4-0, May 8, 1968
• Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles vs. Chicago (NL), 1-0, Sept. 9, 1965
• Jim Bunning, Philadelphia at New York (NL), 6-0, June 21, 1964
• Don Larsen, New York (AL) vs. Brooklyn (NL), 2-0, Oct. 8, 1956*
• Charles Robertson, Chicago (AL) at Detroit, 2-0, April 30, 1922
• Addie Joss, Cleveland vs. Chicago (AL), 1-0, Oct. 2, 1908
• Cy Young, Boston vs. Philadelphia, 3-0, May 5, 1904
• John Richmond, Worcester vs. Cleveland, 1-0, June 12, 1880
• John Ward, Providence vs. Buffalo, 5-0, June 17, 1880
KEY DEFENSIVE PLAYS
The most difficult play made behind Felix Hernandez in his perfect game was the first one of the day – a long fly ball to right-center field by Tampa Bay’s Sam Fuld.
Right fielder Eric Thames, not known for his defense, ran the ball down and made a backhanded catch on the run.
In the seventh inning, the Rays’ best chance to reach base came when speedy B.J. Upton grounded toward the left side of the infield, and Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager dived for the ball and missed.
Shortstop Brendan Ryan fielded the ball and threw out Upton.
“If Kyle catches that ball, I don’t think he has a play because he’s diving to his left,” manager Eric Wedge said.
“If he deflects the ball, I probably don’t have a play,” Ryan said. “I loved the effort, but I’m glad he missed it.” The 27 outs
A look at how the Rays’ batters fared against Felix Hernandez (pitch count in parentheses):
1. Sam Fuld: Flied out to deep right (2-1).
2. B.J. Upton: Grounded out to shortstop (0-0).
3. Matt Joyce: Grounded out to second (1-0).
4. Evan Longoria: Struck out swinging (1-2).
5. Ben Zobrist: Grounded out to second (3-1).
6. Carlos Peña: Flied out to left (0-0).
7. Jose Lobaton: Flied out to right (0-0).
8. Elliot Johnson: Struck out swinging (1-2).
9. Sean Rodriguez: Flied out to left (0-0).
10. Fuld: Lined out to third (3-2).
11. Upton: Struck out swinging (2-2).
12. Joyce: Struck out swinging (2-2).
13. Longoria: Lined out to second (1-1).
14. Zobrist: Flied out to left (2-2).
15. Peña: Grounded out to catcher (1-2).
16. Lobaton: Struck out swinging (2-2).
17. Johnson: Struck out swinging (0-2).
18. Rodriguez: Struck out swinging (2-2).
19. Fuld: Grounded out to second (2-2).
20. Upton: Grounded out to shortstop (1-1).
21. Joyce: Grounded out to first (3-2).
22. Longoria: Struck out swinging (1-2).
23. Zobrist: Struck out swinging (1-2).
24. Peña: Struck out swinging (1-2).
25. Desmond Jennings (pinch hitter): Struck out swinging (1-2).
26. Jeff Keppinger (pinch hitter): Grounded out to shortstop (1-2).
27. Rodriguez: Struck out looking (2-2).email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @LarryLaRue * World Series firstname.lastname@example.org