MINNEAPOLIS – All King Felix needs is one run.
Felix Hernandez struck out five in a five-hitter and Eric Thames hit a solo homer in the eighth inning to lift the Seattle Mariners to a 1-0 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Monday night.
Hernandez (13-5), who picked up his 23rd career complete game and ninth shutout, hasn’t lost a decision since June 12. He is 4-0 in 1-0 games this season, becoming the third pitcher since 1969 to be that successful in 1-0 ballgames.
“He’s the real deal. That’s why he’s King Felix,” Thames said. “That’s why he’s got the Cy Young (in 2010), the perfect game, all that stuff. I’m officially a believer. I’m glad he’s on my team.”
Said shortstop Brendan Ryan, “We get him a 1-0 lead, and he smells blood.”
Franklin Gutierrez went 1-for-2 with two stolen bases in his first game with Seattle since being sidelined June 28 because of a concussion.
Liam Hendriks (0-7) was almost King-like, but it wasn’t quite enough to get him his first career victory. He gave up three hits and struck out six in nine innings, his only blemish the homer to Thames.
Joe Mauer had a single and Justin Morneau had a triple for the Twins, who have lost 14 of their past 17.
Hernandez has been on a roll, even by his sterling standards, as he chases a second Cy Young Award.
In his past 14 starts, he is 9-0 with a 1.40 ERA, 100 strikeouts, 17 walks and a perfect game. He’s allowed one earned run or fewer a staggering 16 times in 27 starts this season.
“I’ve been consistent the last two months,” Hernandez said. “I’ve been trying to throw strikes, been trying to get ahead of every hitter and mix all my pitches. That’s the key right now, throw strikes.”
His change-up was particularly effective against the Twins.
“The days that it is on, hitters are expecting it to come and they can’t do anything about it,” Mariners catcher John Jaso said. “They try and swing at pitches earlier in the count so they don’t have to face that change-up. It can really mess with hitters’ heads.”
To watch Hendriks, a 23-year-old Aussie who hasn’t picked up a win in 14 career starts and has been sent back to Triple-A twice this season, match King Felix pitch for pitch through seven innings was unexpected.
Hendriks needed 68 pitches to get through six innings against the Mariners before Thames got him in the eighth.
Morneau led off the seventh with a triple before Hernandez steeled himself and got Moses Lake High graduate Ryan Doumit, Trevor Plouffe and Jamey Carroll to ground out.
“We had a leadoff triple and four pitches later we were in the dugout,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Got to get a better pitch, got to get something up in the air and we weren’t able to do it. You tip your hat to the guy on the other side. That’s why he’s one of the best, if not the best, in the league.”
Ferguson Jenkins (1974) and Bert Blyleven (1976) are the other pitchers since 1969 to have four wins in 1-0 ballgames in a season. It’s the second nine-decision win streak of Hernandez’s career. Randy Johnson also had two nine-decision win streaks for the Mariners. Mauer passed Earl Battey for the most games caught by a Twins player, catching his 832nd game. “It’s a pretty neat little deal,” Mauer said.
Seattle will start right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma (4-3, 3.64 ERA) against left-hander Scott Diamond (10-5, 3.04) at 5:10 p.m. today.