SEATTLE – Felix Hernandez wasn’t going to let the trends continue.
The Mariners’ losing, the Brewers’ hitting and his personal run of winless starts were going to come to an end, and they were going to end Sunday.
Seattle’s pitching ace did what aces are expected to do: He gave his team a brilliant outing, leading to a much-needed 2-0 victory over Milwaukee at Safeco Field.
The outcome salvaged some pride for the Mariners after an otherwise forgettable series against one of the worst teams in the National League.
“Felix was Felix,” acting manager Robby Thompson said. “It was another outstanding outing.”
Hernandez pitched eight shutout innings, allowing four hits, while striking out nine batters and walking one. The outing lowered his American League-leading earned run average to 2.28 and he improved
his season record to 12-5. It was the 98th time in his career he allowed one run or fewer in a start. The Mariners have a 65-4 record in those starts.
After watching the Brewers bang out a combined 27 hits and score 10 runs in each of the first two games of the series, Hernandez halted that trend with his array of pitches — all of them moving and seemingly impossible to hit hard.
“Those first two games were tough and they scored a lot of runs,” Hernandez said. “I just went out there and did what I had to do to win this game.”
What he did was pitch like a Cy Young Award candidate. He cruised through five innings, walking one hitter and allowing one hit — a double to Juan Francisco in the second inning. The result was runners on second and third – the only real threat he faced. He struck out Jeff Bianchi and got Scooter Gennett to pop out to end the inning. It was the last time a Brewers runner would reach second base.
After the double, Hernandez retired 11 consecutive hitters. Seattle’s defense helped out, which was a refreshing change from the error-filled games of the previous 10 games — 11 errors in seven losses.
Brendan Ryan, who was playing shortstop, made a few nifty plays, including a pretty bare-handed stop in the fourth inning.
In the sixth inning, Hernandez gave up a leadoff bunt single to Martin Maldonado. But the runner was quickly erased when Brad Miller, playing second for an ill Nick Franklin, made a nice play on a difficult grounder to start a 4-6-3 double play. The inning ended when 41-year-old Henry Blanco threw out the speedy Jean Segura, who is tied for second in the National League in stolen bases with 33, on his attempted steal of second.
“He’s unbelievable,” Hernandez said of Blanco. “You can’t stop him. He just keeps throwing guys out.”
After a 1-2-3 seventh inning, Hernandez had to work a little in the eighth. He got two quick outs, but gave up a single to Gennett. Hernandez came back to strike out Maldonado looking to end the inning.
“I was trying to strike him out and put a little extra on it,” Hernandez said.
The inning took its toll on Hernandez. He needed 20 pitches to get out of the eighth inning, pushing his total to 108 pitches.
He told Thompson between innings that he was done for day.
“He was pretty much at the end of his rope,” Thompson said. “He’d basically had enough. He was honest with me.”
Normally Hernandez puts up a fight about coming out of games. This time he didn’t – even though he could have, and would have, pitched if they needed him.
“I was a little tired,” Hernandez said. “They asked me if I wanted to go back in. I said I’m all right, but I’ve had enough. I was just being honest. I want to go out there, but if I’m tired, I don’t want to blow the game.”
So Thompson went to Danny Farquhar, who has assumed the closing duties in the last week. Farquhar got two quick outs then gave up a single to Jonathan Lucroy. With Carlos Gomez representing the tying run at the plate, and Mariners fans fearing yet another bullpen blowup, Farquhar got a ground out to end the game and notch his fourth save in four opportunities.
The Mariners didn’t exactly bless Hernandez with a surfeit of runs — not a new development — but they know that one or two runs can be more than enough when he’s on the mound. And that’s all the offense got against Brewers starter Wily Peralta.
The hard-throwing right-hander matched Hernandez by pitching eight innings and allowing just four hits. But he allowed two costly runs.
Dustin Ackley led off the third inning with a hard double down the left-field line for Seattle’s first hit.
“I’m up there with (the) mentality of hunting the fastball and good things are happening lately,” Ackley said.
Ryan’s ground out to second base moved Ackley to third, and he scored on a wild pitch that got away from Maldonado. A sliding Ackley got just under the covering Peralta’s tag.
“I went right away,” Ackley said. “Fortunately, I got under the tag there. It was closer than I wanted it to be. But you have to take advantage of things like that.”
The Mariners picked up an insurance run in the fifth inning when Justin Smoak’s run of redemption continued with a solo home run to make it 2-0. Smoak jumped on a 94 mph fastball above his belt and tomahawked it into the right field stands for his 13th homer of the season.
“I was looking fastball,” Smoak said. “I was sitting dead red the whole at-bat after my first at-bat. (Peralta) had pretty good stuff today — hard fastball, good slider and good change-up. He was tough but we were able to get a couple across on him.”
It was Smoak’s seventh homer since July 2, a stretch that has seen him hit .311 (37-for-119) with nine doubles, 18 RBI and 15 walks.