Listen to Felix Hernandez next time, people.
The King dismissed concerned that surfaced from his shaky efforts in spring training. He said he’d be fine when the season started. And let’s face it, he’s always fine when the season starts, isn’t he?
“You know what you’re going to get from Felix when the lights are on and opening day is here,” catcher Mike Zunino said. “Once the intensity is up, and the adrenaline is going, you’re going to get original Felix.”
And so it goes.
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Hernandez pitched seven overpowering innings Monday afternoon as the Mariners opened their most-anticipated season in years with a 4-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels in front of a sellout crowd at Safeco Field.
“I think it was pretty good,” Hernandez said, “except for that homer in the first inning. Everything was working. Great curveball. Great change-up. And an excellent fastball.
“When my fastball is there, it makes everything better.”
Hernandez gave up a homer in the first to Mike Trout but just one other hit, a single, in seven innings. He walked one, struck out 10 and had the crowd of 45,909 in a frenzy.
So much for that 0-3 record and 10.22 ERA in spring training.
“I think Felix on the mound really charged our fans up quite a bit,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “and I think our players fed off of that. It was a special day. It was pretty electric out there.”
It wasn’t just Hernandez.
The Mariners’ revamped attack also flexed some muscle as Seth Smith, one of their key offseason acquisitions, became the first player in franchise history to deliver three extra-base hits in a season opener.
Dustin Ackley contributed a home run. Brad Miller had two hits. Robinson Cano had an RBI single. Carson Smith stranded two runners in the eighth inning by striking out Trout.
Fernando Rodney got a save and shot his arrow.
Mostly, though, it was Felix.
“It was my first time playing behind Felix,” Seth Smith said, “and that was a lot of fun.”
Hernandez previously admitted he was keenly anticipating pitching at home in a season opener for the first time since 2007. He wasn’t disappointed; he characterized the atmosphere as “amazing.”
Even “better,” he said, than the memorable season finale a year ago when the crowd stood and cheered the Mariners’ season-long turnaround when word came the club had been eliminated from postseason contention.
There were others who agreed.
“You can definitely see that with winning teams, this crowd, this can be special,” Ackley said. “We’re on the verge of that, for sure.”
The Angels stirred to life after Hernandez departed. Chris Iannetta and Johnny Giavotella nicked Danny Farquhar for one-out singles in the eighth inning.
Charlie Furbush replaced Farquhar and to face Kole Calhoun and got a borderline call for a strikeout on a full count.
The Mariners then summoned Carson Smith to face Trout, the reigning American League Most Valuable Player. Trout got the benefit of a no-swing appeal on an 0-2 check swing, but he swung through the next pitch for the third out.
The Mariners scored all of their runs against Angels starter Jered Weaver, who gave up eight hits in the six innings. Smith had an RBI triple in the third inning and an RBI double in the fifth.
“I left a lot of pitches up,” Weaver said, “falling behind in counts and pretty much battled the whole game. It’s a tough way to get it going.”
Hernandez started the game with a three-pitch strikeout of Calhoun and jumped ahead 0-2 on Trout. But Trout worked the count back to 2-2 before launching a homer over the center field wall.
“It was a fastball,” Hernandez said. “I was throwing him five fastballs in a row. I tried to go away, and I stayed in the middle. Just a mistake.”
Trout also homered against Hernandez in the first inning of last year’s opener in Anaheim, California, and, like last year, it only seemed to annoy the King. A year ago, the Mariners rallied for a 10-3 victory.
“I think any homer,” Zunino said, “could rub Felix the wrong way.”
Hernandez is 6-0 with a 1.49 ERA in eight career starts on opening day. Yep, the King rules opening day. Every year.
Why, you ask?
“I don’t know,” Hernandez said, then reconsidered. “It’s a great challenge. You’ve got a lot of eyes on you, so you’ve got to do good.”
Listen to the man.