It was the final strike of a night filled with them, and came from right field in the ninth inning tonight,, arriving at home plate about the same time Casper Wells went into his slide.
That strike got away from Boston catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, allowing Wells to score the only run of the night on the last play of the game, giving Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners a 1-0 victory.
“Unbelievable,” Hernandez said, beaming. “That’s my best game this year, and the guys played great defense behind me. We needed that win. We needed it.”
One out into the bottom of the ninth, Wells – who’d made two marvelous defensive plays an inning earlier – doubled up the alley in left center field.
It was the Mariners fourth hit of the game. Boston walked Justin Smoak intentionally, and manager Eric Wedge sent pinch hitter John Jaso to plate for Miguel Olivo.
“He’s had a lot of big hits for us in the first half and he wants to be up there,” Wedge said. “He hunts the ball.”
Jaso found it, singled into right field and set off the race for the plate. Outfielder Cody Ross charged and came up throwing. Wells rounded the bag at third and sprinted home.
“I could see he was low and in front of the plate, so there was no sense trying to knock it loose with a collision,” Wells said. “I tried to go around him, just get there as fast as I could.
“He caught the ball and tried to spin and tag me in the same motion. I think he clipped my nose, and the ball rolled free.”
Even by his lofty standards – his glove has ‘The King’ stitched into it –Hernandez has a three-start run that could land him in the All-Star game next month.
Three games, 25 innings, two runs allowed and 30 strikeouts – and two victories.
Against the Red Sox, Hernandez pitched as if he were a king.
“That’s as good as I’ve ever seen him pitch,” Wedge said. “He gave us a warrior effort. He’s our ace, a true No. 1 pitcher and he showed everything he is tonight.”
Felix said his arm gave him all he asked for and more.
“I felt great, I had could life on my fastball, my breaking pitch was sharp, my changeup was good,” he said. “All my pitches were working.”
The strikeouts piled up, and so did the zeroes. By night’s end, a Safeco Field crowd of 20,692 had watched Hernandez strike out a career-high matching 13 batters.
And shut Boston out.
It was his first complete-game shutout since June 30, 2010 and the fifth of his career. It was also the 19th time he’d struck out 10 or more batters in a game – and the first time he’d ever done so in back-to-back starts.
Even so, he wasn’t perfect.
In the eighth inning, Wells stole a hit from Mike Aviles with a lunging catch in shallow left field. When the next batter, Daniel Nava, hit a long fly ball down the left field line, Wells out ran that one, too – and caught it as he slammed into the wall in foul territory.
“I got a little beat up tonight,” Wells said, “but it was definitely worth it.”
That got the game to the ninth inning.
With one out, David Ortiz lined a breaking pitch up the middle, leaving Felix sprawled on the mound.
“That was close, man,” he said. “’Papi’ nearly killed me.”
With two on, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez hammered a fastball up the alley in left center field. Michael Saunders, filling in for Gutierrez, chased it down.
“I was thinking ‘Get it! Get it! Get it!’” Felix said, shaking his head. “That was a wonderful play.”
Felix got out of the ninth with 128 pitches thrown. Seattle’s offense had been shut down for seven innings by Franklin Morales, then another inning by Andrew Miller.
Boston opened the ninth inning with ex-Mariner Scott Atchison on the mound.
Wells doubled with one out, Jaso got him home and the Mariners won a game on the final swing of the night. Afterward, Felix stood by his locker, ice all over him.
“I pitched in the family game (Wednesday) against the kids,” he said. “Between that and tonight, I probably threw 300 pitches.”