When the Mariners first signed Cliff Lee it the offseason, you envisioned two nights like this - two dominant pitching performances in a row from Lee and Felix Hernandez. Maybe in the reverse order, but still that's what you thought was going to happen.
But we really haven't seen it much this year. Lee was hurt for a month. And Felix has been a little off in a few starts. But the last two days have been amazing.
How rare are the back-to-back complete game wins from Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez? Well, the last time that happened in the Mariners organization was on July 14-15, 1996 when the Bobs - Bob Wells and Bob Wolcott - pitched back-to-back complete games against the then-Anaheim Angels and Oakland A's. Wells beat the Angels 8-0, while Wolcott beat the A's 5-1
Think about this ... Friday night's win took 2 hours and 16 minutes, and Saturday's win took 2 hours and 20 minutes - add them up and you get the length of a Red Sox-Yankees game or a Miguel Batista start.
Felix Hernandez was great.
He was his usual fiery self. After holding the Reds scoreless for the first three innings, he gave up a one-out walk in the fourth that later came around to score on Jonny Gomes’ single to left. Hernandez gave himself his own verbal tongue-lashing as he stormed off the field.
But that was the only run he would give up. He got a key double play in the sixth inning that helped keep his pitch down, and when he struck Gomes out to end the game, he showed his typical emotional fire. Hernandez gave up the one run on five hits, and struck out nine, while allowing the one walk to improve to 5-5 on the season
“I didn’t finish my start in San Diego, so I wanted to finish this one,” Hernandez said. “We scored some runs, and that was it, because I felt good today. I said in my mind, “they don’t have a chance.”
But as good as Felix was, the most important moment of the game came in the sixth inning.
First Rob Johnson gave the M's a 2-1 lead with a big sac fly, Michael Saunders completely changed the complexion of the game.
Saunders hit a mammoth three-run home run in the bottom of the sixth, and while it may not have produced the go-ahead run in the Mariners second-straight win, it provided some much-needed and much-welcomed cushion for the Mariners (27-41), who won their third straight game.
“It was total momentum shift,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. “You could just feel it.”
Saunders jumped all over the first pitch he saw from Reds starter Sam LeCure – an 89 mph fastball up and in – and launched deep into the right field stands. The ball smacked off the front façade of the Hit It Here Café. It was probably the longest home run hit by a Mariner in Safeco Field this season.
“He pitched me hard-in in the previous two at-bats, and struck out me on hard-in in the second AB, so I was kind of expecting something similar there,” Saunders said.
After last season, teams figured out that they could bust Saunders in with fastballs on the inside part and overwhelm him. But after an offseason of working on his swing and changing a few things, the results are showing.
“You look at his approach, and he’s making adjustments on some things,” Wakamatsu said.
But it’s not just mechanical work, but mental work.
“I think it boils down to a lot of work,” he said. “And coming into my second call-up, I told myself I was going to be aggressive and not put too much pressure on myself. Just be aggressive every day.”
How rare are three-run homers for the Mariners? Saunders’ blast was just their seventh of the season.