It'd been a while for Felix. It'd been six weeks. Six weeks since his last win. Seven winless starts was tied for the longest dry spell of Felix's career. Wins, of course, don't mean a lot to us, and it's a statistic that we hold in pretty low regard, but wins mean a lot to pitchers, and wins mean a lot to Felix. Felix wants to get wins. Felix wants to dominate, but more than anything else, Felix wants to get that win.
He came out today with one goal in mind: pitch well enough to earn that W. The M's had been playing better baseball. They were being presented with an opportunity to begin undoing all the mistakes and start clawing their way back into the race. Felix wanted to keep a good thing rolling. He wanted it for himself, and he wanted it for his team. A win tonight would mean a game in the standings, and a win tonight would mean the end of the streak. End that streak and Felix could look ahead to starting a new one. A very different one.
The first inning wasn't encouraging. Joe Mauer hit Felix hard. Justin Morneau hit Felix hard. In an instant, the M's were behind, and one wondered if Felix would crack. Felix, for all of his attributes, has never dealt real well with frustration. There's always some degree of concern about how Felix will respond when something doesn't go his way.
Sure enough, Felix responded tonight.
Felix got mad.
Felix got mad, and Felix retired 23 of the next 27 batters he faced. That the M's blew a chance to score in the first didn't matter. Felix gave up just an infield single in the second. That the M's blew a chance to score in the second didn't matter. Felix gave up just a narrow walk in the third. And then after the M's put a big inning together and seized the lead, Felix slammed the door. Two singles. That was all thewould get over the next five innings. Two singles. Two singles, with strikeouts and weak contact. Felix saw it. Felix could feel it. The win was within his grasp, and he wouldn't let it slip away.
It went to the eighth, the score still 4-1. Felix's pitch count stood at 99. This was it. This was Felix's last inning before he'd have to leave it to the bullpen. And in Felix's last inning, he wanted to make damn sure the Twins wouldn't find a spark. So he disposed of Denard Span with a 96mph fastball. And he disposed of Matt Tolbert with a heater at 95. Felix wasn't taking any chances. If you want something done right, and you're Rob Johnson, you leave it to somebody else. If you want something done right, and you're Felix Hernandez, you do it yourself.
All that stood between Felix and eight brilliant innings and a probable win was Joe Mauer. Joe Mauer, the best catcher in baseball. Joe Mauer, the 184 million dollar man. Joe Mauer, who a year ago led the Majors in average and OBP and led the AL in slugging. We'd seen this start before. Felix had had this start before, against Minnesota in 2005. He just needed one more out, and with that out he'd know he did the best job he could do.
96mph. Outer black. That was one. 96mph. Up and in. That was two. One more pitch. One more pitch was all Felix knew he needed to throw. So he put everything he had into that one last pitch. 85mph. Curve. Down. Whiff. With three pitches - three magnificent pitches - Felix sealed the deal by disposing of one of the greatest pure hitters in the game today.
Only Felix's curve was so good that it fell off the table and took a crazy bounce away from Rob Johnson, and Mauer reached base. So Felix went ahead and struck out Justin Morneau, too.
A lot of things happened tonight, a lot of interesting things, but I can't bring myself to give a damn. Long live the King.