Well, what did you expect Wednesday night when the pitching matchup at Safeco Field was Felix Hernandez and World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner?
This was an absolute dandy and it turned, not surprisingly, on a defensive misplay. A catch that should have been made and wasn’t. The Seattle Mariners turned that into two runs.
And Hernandez turned that into a 2-0 victory over the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants in front of a crowd of 34,844 on a gorgeous night.
“The best thing to (describe it) is it’s a playoff atmosphere,” center fielder Austin Jackson said. “Once the fans get into it, you get pumped up — especially in this type of game when you have two (great) pitchers.
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“You just need something to fall to get something going.”
The mistake came in the sixth inning after Mike Zunino pulled a one-out single through the left side — just the second hit against Bumgarner. Jackson then sent a fly to deep right-center field.
Center fielder Angel Pagan appeared ready to make the catch, but he short-armed the ball at the last moment as Justin Maxwell closed from right field. The ball dropped untouched.
“I missed it,” Pagan said. “I gave my best effort, and I missed it. No excuses. I should have caught it.”
Zunino paused between first and second, expecting a catch, but third-base coach Chris Woodward, subbing again for an ailing Rich Donnelly, gambled on scoring a run
The gamble paid off when Zunino eluded a sweep tag by catcher Buster Posey. Jackson wound up on third with a triple.
“I only get a couple of bullets a game,” Zunino said, “and I wasted all of them on that run right there. Pagan had a great read on it and almost got there.
“The way Bumgarner was throwing, you sort of have to roll the dice there. I sort of knew that. Once I saw it fall, I just knew I had to get there, get a good turn at third. I knew it was going to be pretty bang-bang at the plate.”
The Giants then shortened their infield for Robinson Cano, who took advantage by pulling a hard grounder past first base for an RBI double and a 2-0 lead.
After an intentional walk to Nelson Cruz, Bumgarner escaped further damage by retiring Kyle Seager on a fly to left before trapping Cano on an attempted steal.
The Giants had a chance to answer in the seventh after a one-out throwing error by a Cano and a two-out walk put runners at first and second. Hernandez stranded both runners by retiring Maxwell on a grounder to third.
“If you didn’t have a ticket for this one,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said, “you missed a dandy. It was just a tremendous match-up. Both pitchers were just outstanding. Our crowd was electric. So was theirs.”
True enough; the Giants had a sizable number of fans.
And they were loud.
Hernandez (10-3) and Bumgarner (7-4) each went eight innings. Both permitted just four hits.
“I felt great,” Bumgarner said. “As good as I felt all year. It's one of those days where everything was there. …You know who you're going up against. Just a couple of mistakes there cost us.”
McClendon said he thought about sending Hernandez, at 106 pitches, back for the ninth inning until Hernandez said he was spent. The Mariners then turned to Charlie Furbush and Carson Smith for the final three outs. Smith got his third save.
What a bounce-back effort by Hernandez, who was coming off that eight-run nightmare in the first inning Friday in a 10-0 loss at Houston. He lasted just one-third of an inning; the shortest non-injury outing of his career.
“At least I made it through one (inning),” he noted through a wry smile. “It was a great match-up. You can’t make any mistakes (when pitching) against that guy. He’s really good.”
Hernandez became the American League’s first 10-game winner this season.
“You know how Felix is,” Zunino said. “The bigger the occasion, it seems the better he pitches. He did it once again.”
Bumgarner retired the first 13 Mariners before Mark Trumbo hit a hard grounder to short that took a wicked hop on Brandon Crawford, who threw wildly to first after he recovered.
Trumbo wound up on second with a single and an error, but Bumgarner responded by striking out Logan Morrison and retiring Willie Bloomquist on a soft liner to first.
Everything turned on one play: Pagan’s failure to catch Jackson’s drive in the sixth inning, which culminated in Zunino’s sprint and ability to get around Posey’s tag.
“These are the ones it’s fun to be a part of,” Zunino said. “You know it’s going to take everyone grinding out at-bats, and working the pitch counts. You need some timely hitting. Luckily, we were able to get that.”