It’s nights like Friday when Felix Hernandez re-stakes his claim as game’s best pitcher.
The Oakland A’s, the division’s two-time defending champions, are in town, and the Mariners are staging a “Supreme Court” promotion and distributing “K” placards to a large and boisterous crowd.
In short, something special was expected…and Hernandez not only delivered, he showed again why he is the King before exiting to a standing ovation in the eighth inning of a 6-4 victory at Safeco Field.
“It’s just another day at the office for him,” catcher Mike Zunino said. “He just lives off the expectations and the pressure. It’s what separates him from everybody else. He loves it, and he thrives on it.”
Hernandez fed off the crowd of 38,968 by holding the A’s scoreless on three hits through seven innings while racking up 11 strikeouts.
“I felt good tonight,” he said, “and I was excited because of the fans. There were a lot of people (here for) the Supreme Court. It was a great day.”
For all that, it didn’t come easy at the end.
Hernandez carried a three-hit shutout into the eighth before a hit batter and a single put runners on first and third and prompted manager Lloyd McClendon to go to the bullpen.
And things got hairy.
Lucas Luetge loaded the bases with a four-pitch walk to Sam Fuld, which brought Danny Farquhar into the game. Farquhar forced in a run by walking Jed Lowrie.
After Farquhar struck out Josh Donaldson, McClendon summoned Charlie Furbush for a left-on-left matchup against Brandon Moss. It didn’t work; Moss served an RBI single into short right.
That brought the tying run to the plate with one out.
The Mariners settled for one out on Yoenis Cespedes’ potential double-play grounder to third. Another run scored, and it was 6-3. A Furbush wild pitch added still another run before Alberto Callaspo popped out.
Fernando Rodney worked around a leadoff double in the ninth for his third save in a game that probably shouldn’t have produced a save situation. So, it ended well.
“Even when (Rodney) gave up the double to start the inning, he didn’t panic,” left fielder Dustin Ackley said. “You’d see that last year, we’d get kind of tentative, a panic mode. But he left him on second.”
Hernandez improved to 3-0 with a final line that showed two runs and four hits in 104 pitches seven-plus innings. He is the first pitcher in franchise history to win three of the club’s first nine games.
“I have to throw a good game,” he said. “There were a lot of people there. If you throw a bad game, it’s not going to be good.”
Well, sure, it’s simple when you put it like that.
Here’s a point to ponder: The A’s, as division rivals, see Hernandez a lot. They saw him last Saturday in Oakland when he beat them 3-1. And Donaldson didn’t think Friday was the King at his best.
“It’s hard to say that about a guy when he punches out 11,” Donaldson said. “In Oakland, I can only think of about three or four pitches the entire game he gave us to hit.
“Tonight, he gave us some pitches to hit, but we weren’t able to take advantage. Even when he doesn’t have his best stuff, he’s really smart and he’s kind of hard to follow throughout the at-bat with what he’s going to do.”
Oakland starter Tommy Milone, in his season debut, fell victim to shaky infield defense in the early innings but exited down 5-0 after serving up a two-run homer to Zunino in the sixth.
The Mariners scored one run in the first inning when first baseman Daric Barton couldn’t decide where to throw the ball after fielding a grounder.
Two-out errors in the fourth by Donaldson and Lowrie each permitted a run to score and pushed the lead to 3-0.
Ackley’s check-swing single, his third hit, started the three-run sixth, but there was nothing tainted about Zunino’s drive, nor Brad Miller’s homer later in the inning against reliever Drew Pomeranz.
With Hernandez, that should have been plenty. Instead, it was merely enough.