I wrote a post that wasn't about Felix on Tuesday night. This made me feel a little dirty. To make up for it, please allow me to present a chronicle of King Felix Hernandez's ascent to the throne - the five starts that define his career to date. Rankings done by game score because I didn't have any better ideas as to how to do it:
#5: April 28th, 2009 at CWS
Does anyone remember Jakubauskas's third start with the team? It was early days in 2009, but with RRS making one start and getting hurt, we needed someone to fill in. His first start went decently, his second start against the Rays was disastrous, and his third start was a thing of beauty. He allowed three baserunners over eight innings, but was beaten 2-1 by a combination of bad luck and the Mariner offence. Watching that game sucked. Fortunately, it was a day-night doubleheader and we had Felix! (I think he deserves the exclamation mark now) pitching the second half. Who better to drag us out of one of the most frustrating games of the season? After all, if the Jaubaustrich could stymie the Chicago offence, what might a good pitcher do?
He might do this: Eight innings pitched, nine strikeouts, one walk, zero extra-base hits. Felix absolutely dominated the ChiSox offence en route to leading the Mariners to a 9-1 victory (the one run came in the ninth, after he'd left). He only required 100 pitches to do it, to, throwing 73% strikes and getting more than a few ground balls in the process. Felix's second best start of 2009 made everyone forget Jakubauskas's woes in a hurry. To quote Jeff (and because I'm lazy):
The White Sox couldn't touch him. It wasn't just their lousy hitters, either - Dye, Konerko, and Quentin were all given fits. Maybe Felix's best at bat came against Konerko with two on in the fourth, when he set him up with three breaking balls low and away before blowing through him with a 1-2 heater at the knees on the outer black. This was Felix at his best. The kind of Felix you bring home to your parents.
Other notes from this game: It featured a Yunibomb!
#4: August 15, 2005 vs. KCR
The game score was the same as the 2009 start in Chicago, but this ranks higher because I was there and it was my birthday, dammit. This was Felix's second home start and third in the major leagues, and he'd just come off winning a 1-0 decision against the Twins (if I remember correctly, it took a Jeremy Reed double and then a Yuniesky Betancourt triple to do the trick, which is pretty funny in retrospect). Next up? The Royals, who were on something like a billion-game losing streak. Not a good time to be facing a 19-year old pitcher with something to prove.
I remember watching this game from the seats in right centre. It's actually a pretty good place to see location and pitch movement, and from that vantage point, I saw Felix's fastball be the best it's ever been. Ten ground balls. Eleven strikeouts. One walk. Eight innings. The only reason the Royals got on the board is because Mike Morse was 'playing' shortstop. With every strike came a deafening roar. The King was in town, and everyone knew it.
Other notes from this game: Yuniesky Betancourt made the first start of his life at second base and turned in the best (and I mean it) defensive performance I've ever seen from said position. Watching his highlights from 2005 makes me very sad. Also, Richie Sexson nearly killed me with a home run.
#3: June 16th, 2009 at SDP
You know, it's a little bit hard for me to see this game ranked so high. Felix only gave up two hits against the Padres, but he also only struck out six and walked four, which isn't my definition of a particularly good start. Still, according to game score, this was the third best outing of his career (I imagine that this is because he had a complete game shutout). Did I mention he hit Kevin Kouzmanoff?
Anyway, according to conventional wisdom and Bill James, this was a good start. Who am I to argue against both of those forces at once?
Other notes from this game: Gutierrez was amazing both in the field and at the plate, making a marvelous catch and hitting an absolute bomb of a solo homer in the third inning. Felix drew a nine pitch walk in the ninth which was weird.
#2: April 2nd, 2007 vs. OAK
One suspects that no matter what Felix does in his career, it will be difficult to top a ten-day span in April of 2007. A 20-year-old Felix had been named opening day starter, and all of Seattle was waiting on bated breath to see if he'd live up to expectations.
In retrospect, it was a good thing that Shannon Stewart reached in the fourth on a stupid little infield single, because it let everyone relax and just enjoy Felix at his absolute best. Fastball? Moving like crazy, and located perfectly. Curve? Best it's ever been. Slider? Starting on the outside of the plate and ending up a foot inside and in the dirt makes for a pretty fun pitch. Changeup? I don't remember any changes but who cares? Felix was ungodly. The only (and I mean only) blemish was that the one fly ball he gave up went for a double. Other than that? Fourteen grounders and twelve strikeouts. This would have been a shutout easily if Hargrove hadn't wanted to parade JJ around for opening day.
#1: April 11th, 2007 at BOS
You all knew this was coming, right? I'm not going to go into this game too much - Jeff was there, and he's ten times the writer I could ever hope to be. But there's some things that bear saying again:
This game is the reason why I'll always hate J.D. Drew despite being a fine baseball player, it's why I'll always resent Jose Lopez for his defensive shortcomings, and it's why I'll always have somewhere to go inside my head when confronted with obnoxious Red Sox fans. Felix, three days after he was legally allowed to drink, went to Fenway Park against a $100M Japanese import and nearly no-hit the Red Sox. Was his stuff as good as it was against Oakland? No, but it was still excellent. Was his command up to par? Not really.
But despite his not being at the absolute pinnacle of his game, Felix no-hit the Red Sox through seven innings, surviving a few line drives in the process and a few scary walks. Only three things stand out to me from the game - Drew's groundball up the middle that made me feel like I'd lost a testicle, my starting to shake between Felix pitches in the 5th and not stopping until the aforementioned castration, and Manny Ramirez's called strikeout to end the eighth.
That strikeout is the best I've ever (and I mean ever) felt following the Mariners. But the best part about this extension is that Felix hasn't even had half of his guaranteed time with us, and we're sure to reach even higher peaks.
Thank goodness we're not going to see him go anywhere for a while. Long Live the King.