King Felix reigns supreme
Seattle Times staff reporter
Winning pitcher: Felix Hernandez (6-6)
Losing pitcher: Jeff Weaver (3-9)
Tuesday: Mariners at Oakland Athletics, 7:05 p.m., FSN/KOMO (1000 AM)
Starting pitchers: M's Jamie Moyer (3-5, 3.86) vs. Joe Blanton (5-5, 5.60)
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Amazing, really, how on the day Felix Hernandez pitched like a solid big-leaguer, his reaction was like the kid he actually is.
Phenom? That type of performance has been coming for much of the past month, and Hernandez's first major-league complete game Sunday was phenomenal, in every nuance of the word.
For nine innings — just 94 pitches and only 21 of them not strikes — four hits and just two runners beyond first, the just-turned-20-year-old looked every part of a veteran.
Dominating the Los Angeles Angels, 6-2, Hernandez retired 17 straight batters in classic mow-'em-down mode, had just two three-ball counts — none until the eighth inning — and locked up his team's first road sweep since last July here.
Then, understandably, as he sat in front of his locker surrounded by media, he grinned with delight as if he had made his first trip down the road here to Disneyland.
Did he get the ball? Grin. "Yes," he said, not waiting for translator Gillian Hagamen.
Who gets it? Grin. Hands to face to cover grin. "Mama."
How about that play that Jose Lopez made in the first inning, scorching over from behind second to slide under a foul pop by Vladimir Guerrero?
Grin. Eyes upward, a big whew.
"That was a great play. To get that guy out is a big, big play," said Hernandez, reverting to Spanish to call appreciation across the clubhouse to Lopez. "My boy Lopey gave me a big lift with that."
After that out, Hernandez — who had allowed a run already on two hits, an error by Ichiro and a wild pitch — did not allow a base runner until the seventh, when Orlando Cabrera led off with a double and Los Angeles eked out a second run.
By that time, Jeremy Reed had tied the score with a solo homer off Jeff Weaver in the second, opened the three-run fifth with a double and made a nice catch at the fence on Guerrero in the seventh.
And Raul Ibanez had bumped a 4-1 lead to 6-1 with a two-run home run, his 12th, in the seventh.
"That was huge," Mariners manager Mike Hargrove said. "It made it easy for me to let Felix finish the game. If we don't get that, and Guerrero gets on in the ninth, I'd have brought in J.J. [Putz]."
That does not mean the manager had any doubts about how well Hernandez pitched, striking out the side in the eighth inning and blowing through a ninth that was interrupted by Cabrera's third hit, a two-out single.
"As the game went on he continued to get stronger, threw his best breaking balls of the game," Hargrove said. "The difference today was command and location."
As the season has gone on, Hernandez has gotten stronger. All six of his wins have come in his last nine starts.
"Two, three weeks ago, I had people asking me if he was a disappointment, should he be pitching here," Hargrove said. "In baseball, in general, you have to be patient. With young players, you really have to be patient. If they have the talent, patience pays off. It certainly has with Felix."
Hernandez said it was not just his best game of the year, but best in the big leagues, better than any of those super starts he made as a rookie last year.
"For the first time he looked like the pitcher who we first saw last year. Anything hit in the air had air under it, not hit square at all," Reed said. "You could tell from center how sharp he was. You could see the breaking ball going down, the fastball hitting in and out edges. Most of all you could tell from the reaction of the hitters how good he was."
And how good has Reed been here, 25 miles south of his hometown of San Dimas, where has hit .368, 99 points better than his overall average? His three homers in Angel Stadium this year equal his total for the entire 2005 season.
"I can't explain it," he said. "But hopefully I can keep it going."
Hernandez threw 53 pitches in five innings, just 10 of them balls. He threw 79 through seven, with just 15 balls.
When he ran his only three-ball counts to Juan Rivera and Dallas McPherson in the eighth, he came back and struck out each on wicked breaking balls.
"I had every single thing working today," Hernadez said. "I worked to both sides of the plate, had my best curveball of the season. I felt better as the game went on. Rene [Rivera, catcher] did a great job. I only checked him twice."
Hernadez closed with 10 straight strikes in the ninth. The last out was Guerrero, who grounded to short.
"We fed him curveballs all game. Then he was looking for them, and we got him on a fastball in the seventh," Rivera said. "Then we threw him a curve again in the ninth and he rolled over it."
Asked how badly he wanted to finish the game, Hernandez said: "If I wasn't going to finish that game, I may never finish a game in my career."
Those around him laughed. Felix looked up at them and grinned.
Bob Finnigan: 206-464-8276 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company