Felix Hernandez wasn’t going to let it 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 on Sunday.
The Mariners ace did what all staff aces are expected to do, giving his team a brilliant outing and leading it to a much-needed 2-0 win over Milwaukee at Safeco Field. The win helped Seattle salvage some semblance of credibility after an otherwise forgettable series against one of the worst teams in the National League.
“Felix was Felix,” acting manager Robby Thompson. “It was another outstanding outing.”
Hernandez pitched eight shutout innings, allowing just 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 to 12-5 on the season. It was the 98th time in his career he allowed one run or less in a start and the Mariners have a 65-4 record in those starts.
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After watching the Brewers’ offense bang out a combined 28 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 this win game.”
What he did was pitch like a potential Cy Young candidate. He cruised through five innings, walking one hitter and allowing just one hit – a double to Juan Francisco in the second inning. It was the only real trouble he got into with runners on second and third and one out. But he struck out Jeff Bianchi and got Scooter Gennett to ground out to end the inning. No Brewer would reach second base again.
After the double, Hernandez retired 11 straight hitters. The Mariners defense helped out Hernandez, which was a refreshing change from the error-filled games of the past 10 days. Brendan Ryan, who was playing shortstop, made a few nifty plays in the field, including a pretty bare-handed pick up in the field in the fourth inning.
In the seventh inning, Hernandez gave up a lead-off bunt single. But it was quickly erased as Brad Miller, who was playing second for an ill Nick Franklin, made a nice play on a difficult ground ball 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 second in the NL 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 Scooter Gennett. He came back to strike out Martin 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 and his pitch count. He needed 20 pitches to get out of the inning, pushing his game total to 108.
He admitted to Thompson in 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 contentious fight about coming out of games. This time he didn’t. Of course, he could have and would have pitched if they needed him to.
“I was a little tired,” Hernandez said. “They asked me if I wanted to go back in. I said I’m alright, 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 but 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 ball out to end the game and notch his fourth save in four opportunities.
The Mariners didn’t exactly bless Hernandez with a plethora of runs to work with, which isn’t exactly 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 he got with the offense doing little against Brewers started Wily Peralta. The hard-throwing right-hander also pitched eight innings and gave up 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 of the game.
“I’m up there with mentality of hunting the fastball and good things are happening lately,” Ackley said.
He moved to third on Brendan Ryan’s ground ball out to second base and scored on a wild pitch in the dirt that got away from Lucroy, sliding 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 a nice insurance run in the fifth inning when Justin Smoak’s run of redemption continued 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 this 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. He 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 2nd and since then he’s hitting .311 (37-for-119 with nine doubles, seven homers, 18 RBI and 15 walks.