The sign on the door identified it as “Visitors Clubhouse,” but on Monday afternoon it housed a branch of the Felix Hernandez Fan Club.
The Los Angeles Angels touched the Mariners’ ace with a Mike Trout home run in the first inning but got very little else off Hernandez as the M’s scored a 4-1 season-opening win in front of a sellout Safeco Field crowd.
Yes, Hernandez racked up 10 strikeouts in seven innings, but the Angels saw much more out of the Mariners than just King Felix, and consider them a prime challenger in the American League West Division this season.
“He had his good stuff today,” Trout said. “He had all his pitches working. Every time we face him, it’s a battle.”
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After Trout’s homer, Felix struck him out twice, and reliever Carson Smith added another in eighth.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia acknowledged the obvious: When Hernandez pitches like that, the options are slim.
“He is obviously one of the best pitchers in the game,” Scioscia said. “After Mike’s home run, he was tough … the strikeouts he racked up, and the way he commanded the count. He pitched a terrific game this afternoon.”
Trout, last season’s AL MVP, had been one of Hernandez’s prime nemeses — Trout has a .367 career average against him.
He conceded that it’s part of his competitive nature to get fired up against pitchers like Hernandez.
“But sometimes it can hurt you, too,” Trout said. “You get so anxious and you want to do so much.”
Angels starter Jered Weaver lost his second consecutive season-opening start to Hernandez. Weaver’s response was to “tip his hat to him.”
“Felix was on his game after the homer that Trout hit,” Weaver said. “He settled in and pretty much did his thing. They’ve got a good lineup over there, and obviously a lot of good pitching, too.”
And that’s the question that is fair to ask but too early to expect serious answers: Can the Mariners be the team in the AL West that challenges the Angels? After all, the M’s topped them in last year’s opener, too, but the Angels went on to ring up 98 wins — 11 more than Seattle.
“They’re gonna be good,” Scioscia said. “Our focus is in-house. We know our division is tough; we know our league is tough. We have to concentrate on our own kitchen, and make sure it’s in order.”
Trout, too, offered a general answer to the question about the Mariners contending. “Every team in our division is tough,” he said. “Every team last year played us tough. It’s going to be a battle all year.”
What might prove different this season is the performance of some of the guys who were supplemental keys to the Mariners’ win on Monday. Guys like Seth Smith.
Smith, the backup to quarterback Eli Manning at Ole Miss, got his first start in right field for the Mariners. With two doubles and a triple, Smith was the first player in Mariners history to have three extra-base hits in a season opener.
(You heard that right: Seth Smith did something unmatched by Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez or Ichiro Suzuki.)
And when Trout came up in the eighth representing the tying run, Carson Smith (no relation to Seth) stared him down. Trout ended up striking out on a foul tip.
Teams face the Mariners worrying about Felix and Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz. Seth Smith and Carson Smith are probably not the guys that dominate the scouting report.
The Mariners have now won nine straight season-opening games. And none of those seasons ended up in the postseason.
Maybe it’s some of the lesser stars who make the difference this season, as they did on Monday.
They’ve at least got the Angels’ attention.