For one night, Safeco Field was the yellowest place on earth – and neither Felix Hernandez nor the Seattle Mariners wanted to be anywhere else.
What began as a celebration of perfection turned into another gritty pitching performance, with a four-run seventh inning that lifted the Seattle Mariners to their seventh consecutive victory – a 5-1 decision over the Cleveland Indians.
No, Felix wasn’t perfect this time. Just very, very good.
And the Mariners, the American League’s hottest team since the All-Star break, are feeling right there with him.
“Before the game, walking from the bullpen to the dugout with Felix, I was looking at all the fans, and when he waved to them how much louder they got,” catcher John Jaso said. “And I was thinking, ‘This is how major league games should be.’ ”
A crowd of 39,204 – nearly all of them wearing bright yellow T-shirts commemorating Felix’s perfect game last week – came in hopes of seeing history.
What they got, instead, was a game filled with marvelous defensive plays, clutch hits and yes, dramatic moments from the mound.
“There was a lot of emotion out there, the place was electric,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.
As for the man those fans came to cheer?
“I got chills walking to the dugout,” Hernandez said. “Wow. I really appreciate the fans in Seattle. And this team, we are playing the right way. I’m seeing offense, defense – everything.”
Felix jumped ahead in the count 0-2 to the first Indians hitter of the night, Jason Kipnis, then allowed a hit. The crowd groaned.
“It didn’t faze Felix,” Jaso said. “That’s the kind of guy he is. Nothing fazes him.”
For five innings, Hernandez and Cleveland starter Roberto Hernandez – the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona – matched zeroes.
Then outfielder Eric Thames hammed his sixth home run, and second in as many nights, for a 1-0 lead. Two innings later, ex-Mariner Casey Kotchman singled home the tying run.
Felix got out of trouble in the seventh, then watched from the dugout as his teammates – who had all of one hit to that point – dropped the hammer on the Indians.
Michael Saunders walked, Kyle Seager singled him to third base and Jaso doubled to left-center field, putting Seattle ahead, 2-1.
“I don’t know what the pitch was, tell you the truth; something breaking down and away,” Jaso said. “I’d rolled over something like it the last at-bat, and I wasn’t going to do that again. I stayed right on it.”
Cleveland went to reliever Esmil Rogers, a tough right-hander, to face the right-handed-hitting rookie, Jesus Montero – a man in a 1-for-22 slump.
On a 2-1 pitch, Montero lined his 13th home run, into the upper deck in left field.
“I hit the ball and it went out so fast I lost it,” Montero said. “Then I saw them trying to catch it in the upper deck and I thought, ‘Thank God.’
“Felix is King Felix, and these fans came out to see him tonight, and I was happy to help him win a game. We play as a team, but Felix is special.”
Shortstop Brendan Ryan echoed that.
“Felix gave this crowd everything they wanted, minus a perfect game,” Ryan said. “It’s fun baseball. We come to the park feeling we can win every game. We’re having a pretty amazing second half.”
Seattle is 24-13 since the break, a .649 winning percentage that has the Mariners and their fans checking the American League wild-card standings.
“That’s fine, I don’t mind them doing that,” Wedge said. “I have to go game-to-game, though.”
So does Felix, who pitches every fifth day and has run his season record to 12-5, his earned-run average to 2.54. Along the way he has rolled out an eight-game personal winning streak, the second longest of his career.
With two outs in the eighth inning, Felix had thrown 105 pitches. There were two men on base, one on an error, the other on a walk. Wedge came out to get him.
“I figured the fans would either boo me or cheer him,” Wedge said, “and they cheered Felix.”
All 39,204 stood, and Felix returned their affection, doffing his cap to all fields.
Rookie Lucas Luetge got the last four outs for his second save.
The Mariners went home with a 60-64 record. Their fans went home with yellow T-shirts.
Everyone but the Indians went home firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @LarryLaRue