TORONTO — Et tu, King?
Felix Hernandez not only failed to stem the Mariners’ late-September free fall; he matched a career high Tuesday night by yielding eight earned runs in a soul-crushing 10-2 loss to Toronto at the Rogers Centre.
“Real disappointed,” he said. “As an ace, it’s my responsibility. I let my team down. It’s my fault…It was a big game. I just tried to go out there and do what I’m capable of doing. And I didn’t.”
Seven runs came in a disastrous fifth inning that Hernandez failed to complete. That was also a career-worst, topping the six runs that he gave up at Texas in the fourth inning of a 7-3 loss on Sept. 24, 2011.
It marked the fourth straight game in which a Mariners starter had his worst outing of the season. Chris Young and Hisashi Iwakuma got roughed up last weekend at Houston, and the Jays rocked James Paxton on Monday.
But this was different.
This was Felix Hernandez, who is generally recognized as the American League’s best pitcher and, at least before Tuesday, seemed an odds-on favorite to win a second Cy Young Award.
“Just not sure (what happened),” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He seemed to lose his command in the fifth inning for some reason.”
The loss dropped the Mariners to 83-74 and puts their postseason hopes on life-support. They now trail Kansas City by three games with five games remaining for the AL’s final wild-card berth.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” center fielder Austin Jackson said. “Obviously, we know the situation that we’re in.”
The carnage came quickly and, seemingly, out of nowhere.
Hernandez (14-6) had retired 11 in a row, and the Mariners had a 2-1 lead, before Dalton Pompey opened the fifth inning by launching a game-tying homer into the upper deck in right field.
“That’s what happens when you fall behind,” Hernandez said. “You’ve got to throw your fastball. It was up, and he put a good swing on it.”
Anthony Gose followed Pompey’s homer with a slicing double past third.
Hernandez then fumbled Josh Thole’s attempted sacrifice bunt, which was inexplicably scored a base-hit. Either way, it put runners at first and third with no outs.
Ryan Goins’ sacrifice fly scored Gose for a 3-2 lead before Jose Reyes pulled a single through the right side. Walks to Bautista and Encarnacion loaded the bases and forced in a run.
Adam Lind’s grounder to the right side found a hole for an RBI single. The Mariners then settled for one out on Munenori Kawasaki’s grounder to second, which produced another run.
Toronto led 6-2.
When Hernandez reloaded the bases by walking Pompey, the Mariners went to the bullpen for Dominic Leone.
That didn’t work.
Leone forced in a run by hitting Gose. Thole followed with an RBI single, and it was 8-2, before Leone finally ended the inning by retiring Goins on a fly to left.
Afterward, even Hernandez struggled for an explanation.
“Geez, I don’t know,” he said. “Fastball was not there. Change-up was OK. I made a couple of mistakes. And the walks. I fell behind a couple of times in the fifth, and that’s what happened.”
The seven-run fifth made it easy for Toronto knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, who improved to 14-12 by working through the seventh inning. He gave up two runs and five hits before the bullpen closed out the victory.
“R.A. Dickey, he’s no joke,” Jackson said. “You’ve definitely got to give him credit. He had the knuckleball working, and he was keeping us honest by throwing the fastball and change-up every now and again. He’s tough.”
The Blue Jays extended their lead to 10-2 when Encarnacion crushed an two-run homer to left field against Erasmo Ramirez in the sixth inning. That iced the cake.
“It’s tough,” McClendon said. “We’re not playing well right now. A lot of things are going wrong, but we’re still alive. We’ll wake up tomorrow and come out here and try to win a ballgame.”