Yep, take a look at these standings, the Mariners are in first place atop the AL West, along with Oakland A's with matching 9-7 records. I know there were a lot of fans that didn't think this was a possibility after that first road trip when they went 2-5.
But with a return to Safeco Field, came better baseball, solid pitching and actual hitting and offense. The Mariners finished 7-2 on the home stand, taking 2 of 3 from the A's and Tigers and sweeping the Orioles, and dropping them 2-14 and possibly moving Orioles manager Dave Trembley one step closer to getting his pink slip.
You wonder if we'll ever run out of superlatives to say about Felix Hernandez. At this point, it doesn't seem likely.
Hernandez threw a complete game to pick up his second win of the season. He allowed one unearned run on nine hits, while striking out six and walking none.
"Hernandez, his style is he'll get stronger as the game goes on," Trembley said. "He used his changeup very effectively, his breaking pitch and kept the ball down."
Sure he's had more dominating outings. But it's almost more impressive for him to fight his way through outings when he doesn't have his best command. Tonight, he had runners on. And twice he was able to get key double plays - one in the first inning and one in the third.
“The key to his outing was ability to roll a ground ball when he needed to,” Wakamatsu said. “We had two double plays early that kept his pitch count down so we could leave him out there.”
The younger version of Hernandez would have tried to go for the strikeout in similar situations. But the more polished version is content to let a defense that had turned 17 double plays already this season do its job and help him out.
“Every time a runner got on base, all I would think is get a ground ball,” Hernandez said. “I’d throw my sinker and that’s what they would do.”
Offensively, the Mariners key play wasn't Jack Wilson three-run double off of Kevin Millwood. Though that was big. But Wilson never gets that chance if it wasn't for the hustle of Matt Tuiasosopo. With bases loaded and two outs, Rob Johnson stepped to the plate, not exactly inspiring hope for Mariners fans with his .143 batting average - though he did single the inning before.
Johnson punched a ground ball up the middle just past O's starter Kevin Millwood. It wasn't hard enough to get through to the outfield, but it was hit well enough to cause some issues. Baltimore second baseman Justin Turner fielded the ball well behind the bag and tried to flip it to Cesar Izturis at short. But Tui, who has better speed than people expect, came barreling in and beat throw allowing a run to score. Johnson was credited with a hit and an RBI, but he said it also belongs to his teammate.
"I gave him props in the dugout," Johnson said. "Tui's a hustler. And he can run. It's to a lot of people's surprise. He's a big guy, but he can really run."
Wakamatsu was quite pleased with the play.
“The key offensively was Tui’s hustling and getting to second base,” Wakamatsu said. “You talk about playing aggressive baseball and doing little things. Well that little thing got us four runs.”
It tied the score at 1-1, and then three pitches later, Wilson provided Felix all the run support he would need, ripping a hanging cut fastball to right-center to clear the bases.
But Wilson was eager to talk about Tui.
“The ball gets hit and you think we’re out of the inning,” Wilson said. “That’s the play of the game right there.”
Staked with the lead, Felix started carving up hitters. Sure he gave up a few hits, but he never allowed them to get anything together.
"Once he got two strikes on a hitter, he buried them," Wakamatsu said.
My favorite example was this at-bat to Adam Jones.
Um, that would be a 90 mph changeup he struck out Jones with. "Normal changeup," Felix said with a devilish grin.
He was at 94 pitches going into the ninth, but there was little debate if he would go out for the ninth.
"I don't know, I was thinking, 'you aren't coming out today,'" Hernandez said.
Wakamatsu waited till after the game. "I told him, 'see, I let you finish games.'"
A few thoughts ...
Don't forget about Lopez's one-out walk in the fourth inning. A year ago, I doubt he shows that patience and swings at the 3-2 pitch.
It was crowd of 18,401. I will not complain about this anymore. I get to go to these games for free and have a pretty darn good seat.
The Orioles are not good. I don't think it's Trembley's fault. The injuries to Brian Roberts and even Felix Pie have caused players to bat of order.
I covered Adam Jones for two years with the Rainiers. And he's absolutely lost right now. He's trying to swing his way out of the slump. That's not a good thing. And from what I've been told is that his attitude hasn't been fantastic either. That's sad to hear, because he's entertaining, thoughtful and pretty funny when he wants to be. He's talented and will come back.
It would be nice seeing Nick Markakis hit in Safeco Field for about 82 games a year.
Mike Sweeney is now hitting .071. And he saw a total of four pitches in his first three at-bats. As Gump said, "that's all I've got to say about that."
Larry has the road trip, but I will try not to be a stranger.
- Kevin Millwood retired the first 7 batters he faced and 9 of the first 11. He allowed a season-high 4 earned runs. He is now 8-12 against the Mariners all-time with an 5.05 ERA (75 ER, 133.2 IP). Millwood has lost his last 3 decisions against Seattle, going 0-3 with a 6.62 ERA (13 ER, 17.2 IP). In his career at Safeco Field he is 3-8 with a 5.17 ERA (78.1 IP, 45 ER)
- Millwood tossed his 21st career complete game (last: 10/1/09 at LAA w/TEX).
- The Orioles equaled their game totals of hits against a Mariners starter in the first inning when they tallied 3 against
- Hernandez…matched their hit total from last night in the 3rd.
- Matt Wieters RBI single marked the 2nd straight game that the Orioles scored in the 1st inning. Wieters has now hit safely in 14 of the 15 games this season, batting .298 (17x57) with 5 runs scored, 1 double, 1 home run and 4 RBI.
- Lou Montanez recorded his first multi-hit game of the season, going 2x4 with 2 singles. Ty Wigginton grounded into a double play to erase both of Montanez hits.
- Nick Markakis went 3x4 with 3 singles and a run scored, while recording his first 3-hit game (last: 10/2/09 at TOR) and 4th multi-hit game of the season.
- Adam Jones was hitless in the series, going 0x12 with 3 strikeouts. He has not recorded a hit in his last 13 at-bats.
- Starter Felix Hernandez allowed 1 run (0 ER) in a 9.0 complete game for his 2nd win of the season. It marked the 13th time in his career that Felix has tossed at least 8.0 innings and allowed 0 earned runs (last: 9/2/09 vs. LAA). It 8th career complete game (last: 9/18/09 vs. NYY) and his 4th career CG, allowing 0 earned runs (last: 6/16/09 at SD).
- It extended his personal winning streak to 9 games dating back to Aug. 28, 2009 vs. KC. During the streak he is 9-0,
- 1.91 ERA (19 ER, 89.2 IP) in 12 starts. He also won each of his last 7 starts at Safeco Field. Tonight was Hernandez’ first win against Baltimore in Seattle, in 5 career starts, going 1-4.
- In the last 8 games, Mariners starting pitchers have allowed only 10 ER in 54.2 IP (1.65 ERA), lowering their ERA from 4.91 to 3.19.
- Rob Johnson stole his first base of the season, tying his career-high. He came into the game with 2 steals, with 1 coming in each of his first 2 years. Johnson also recorded his first multi-hit game on the season, going 2x3 with 1 run scored and 1 RBI.
- Jack Wilson’s bases clearing double in the 4th inning was his 4th double of the series. He is now hitting .500 (4x8) against Millwood in his career. He tied his career-high with a double in 3 consecutive games (7x in his career, last: 7/29-8/1/08 w/PIT). He extended his hitting streak to 5 games, batting .467 (7x15) with 1 run scored, 4 doubles and 4 RBI.
- The Mariners batted around for the 3rd time this season in the 4th inning…all 3 times have been during this homestand…the team scored 4 runs on 4 hits and drew a walk during the inning.
- Casey Kotchman recorded his 4th multi-hit game of the season and 3rd in the last 4 games. He is batting .400 (6x15) in that stretch. Kotchman hit .321 (9x28) with 5 runs scored, 2 doubles, 2 home runs, 6 RBI during this current homestand.
- The Mariners went 7-2 on the 9-game homestand (2-1 vs. Oakland, 2-1 vs. Detroit, 3-0 vs. Baltimore) and are now tied for 1st place in the AL West with Oakland at 9-7.