The only thing Felix Hernandez took to the mound in his final start of the season for the Seattle Mariners was heart – and he couldn’t throw that.
Everything else the Mariners ace so often features was missing Monday, and the Los Angeles Angels scored seven runs against him in an 8-4 Seattle loss.
In front of an intimate Safeco Field crowd of 13,963, Hernandez gamely pitched into the sixth inning, allowing 12 hits, three walks and enough runs to nudge his season earned run average from 2.86 to 3.06.
At the center of Felix’s problems was Angels Most Valuable Player candidate Mike Trout, a rookie who batted just .257 last month but played Monday like he wanted October to last forever.
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In four at-bats against Hernandez, Trout went four-for-four with two doubles, three RBI and a run scored. That wasn’t close to his best game – but it took the Mariners lineup seven innings to match his output.
After a four-hit, three-run first inning, Felix was effectively negated, and the best he could do was hold the Angels there and hope his team rallied behind him. C.J. Wilson didn’t allow it, not until his team was ahead, 7-1.
A team that’s lost seven of it’s last eight games, the Mariners continued staggering toward Wednesday’s finish line, while straining to get everything they can out of what they’ve got.
Casper Wells homered in the first inning, his ninth, and the Mariners denied Wilson an easy inning. They couldn’t hurt him in time to make a difference, however, and Felix couldn’t hold the Angels.
The Mariners had chances to climb back into this one early – don’t they always? – and their best came in the fourth inning.
Justin Smoak led off with a walk and took third base on Miguel Olivo’s one-out double. Trayvon Robinson lined out, but Wilson walked No. 9 hitter Brendan Ryan to load ‘em up with Mariners.
On an 0-1 pitch, Dustin Ackley rolled out to first base.
Though they may lose, the Mariners do not lose quietly.
In the seventh inning, down six runs, Seattle rallied, scoring on a Smoak RBI double, an Angels error and a Robinson single to cut the deficit to 7-4.
It was the closest Seattle could get after their ace was chased. The Angels tacked on a run in the ninth just because they could.
Following his spectacular August, when he was named American League Pitcher of the Month – going 4-0 with three 1-0 victories, including his perfect game – Felix was not the same pitcher.
Over five September starts, he went 0-3 with a 5.70 ERA, effectively costing himself any chance at a second Cy Young Award.
Still, against an Angels team that has always hit well against him, Hernandez made his 33rd start of 2012 intent on winning for the 14th time.
The Angels would have none of it, but then they’ve rarely been kind to Hernandez. This season he’s 0-3 against them in five starts, with a 6.25 ERA.
In 28 starts this year against any other than the Angels, Felix posted a 2.31 ERA. In his career, Felix is now 6-12 over 30 starts. That’s almost as surprising as this: In his last three seasons, Hernandez has won 13, 14 and now 13 games.
That’s 40 wins and 35 losses for a pitcher most consider one of the game’s elite arms.
The Angels needed a baseball miracle this week: to win all three games against Seattle while Oakland lost all three of their games in Texas. Against the best pitcher the Mariners have, the Angels did their part.
It wasn’t enough – the Athletics beat the Rangers, 4-3, eliminating Los Angeles from the wild card race.
That may mean the Mariners will face an Angels lineup filled with rookies and reserves the next two games, which could give Seattle a better chance to add to their win total of 73.
No, it won’t be a glorious end to their season. Yes, they’d take another win or two.