SEATTLE — There’s something about the Minnesota Twins, apparently, that turns the King into his regal best.
Mariners ace Felix Hernandez pitched a complete-game shutout Friday night in a 2-0 victory at Safeco Field, which is pretty much what he always does when he faces the Twins.
This makes six straight games against Minnesota in which Hernandez pitched at least eight innings while allowing two or fewer runs. Nobody else has fashioned that type of streak against any opponent in the last decade.
“When I started the game,” Hernandez said, “I was in the strike zone, and I felt really good. The fastball was really good and making everything better. I knew I had it. I had the stuff to throw a perfect game, but it didn’t happen.”
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Not that it was easy.
The Mariners managed just two runs against right-hander Phil Hughes (0-4) despite unleashing a boatload of line drives that had Twins outfielders, particularly center field Jordan Shafer, sprinting all over the Safeco acreage.
“We hit some balls hard,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “couldn’t capitalize and then (Hughes) shut us down. He was pretty good as well.”
Two runs were enough.
Hernandez (3-0) gave up five hits (video link) while striking out nine and walking none in a 102-pitch effort. It was the 24th complete game of his career, but his first since Aug. 27, 2012…at Minnesota.
“Thank God,” Shafer said, “every guy you face isn’t like that.”
The biggest issue for Hernandez was a troublesome right quadriceps muscle that again barked on a few occasions when he leaped to corral choppers back to the mound.
“When I jumped, yeah, (I felt it),” he said. “I should go back (a step) and catch it.”
While homers by Cruz and Logan Morrison provided Hernandez with a two-run lead, he had to weather threats by the Twins in the sixth and seventh innings.
Minnesota had runners at first and third with no outs in the sixth, but they held up Danny Santana’s fly to short center. Hernandez then struck out Torii Hunter before stranding both runners when Joe Mauer grounded to first.
Minnesota mounted another threat in the seventh when two-out singles by Trevor Plouffe and Oswaldo Arcia again put runners at first and third. Hernandez escaped by retiring Kurt Suzuki on a fly to right.
“We were trying different things,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “We were trying to be aggressive. We were trying to be patient. He was throwing hard and changing speeds well.
“You don’t get a lot of shots against him, and we didn’t take advantage of the ones we had.”
Hernandez opened the game with four strikeouts, which sent a buzz through the crowd of 25,215.
“I was like, `Oh, here we go,’” Morrison said. “Perfect game didn’t happen, but a complete game will do and we won.”
Hernandez retired the first 14 Twins and admitted he was a “little bit disappointed” when Plouffe served a clean single into right field with two outs in the fifth inning.
Cruz opened the scoring with a 425-foot laser in the second inning that still seemed to be rising when it reached the upper deck beyond the left-field wall. That was the Mariners’ in-house estimate. ESPN tracked it at 442 feet.
It was Cruz’s ninth homer of the season, which leads the majors, and whatever the distance — it was crushed. Asked if he can hit a ball harder, Cruz admitted: “I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
Kyle Seager followed with a double past first that should have turned into another run after Dustin Ackley sent Shafer to the center-field wall on a deep fly.
Seager failed to advance on the play, which proved costly when Morrison followed with a drive that Shafer tracked down in deep right-center field.
Had Seager been on third, he could have trotted home. Instead, the Mariners left him at second when Mike Zunino struck out.
The Mariners got their other run when Morrison finally cashed a reward for a hard-hit ball when he sent a fifth-inning drive over the right-center wall.
Asked if he feared it, too, might be caught, Morrison quipped, “Somebody did, I think. A fan did. Reached over and caught it… I got barrel, and I swung really hard. I was hoping nobody was going to catch it.”
After that, it was all Felix.
“He was amazing,” Cruz said. “I remember being on the other side and seeing him that tough.”