Umpire: may I touch you
Ordinarily, when Felix Hernandez starts a game, you tune in in the hopes that Felix will dominate and the will win. What you're really hoping is that Felix will finally throw that elusive no-hitter, even if you've mostly talked yourself out of caring about no-hitters, but you'll settle for regular dominance. And a win. A win is critical. Even if the win comes after Felix departs, we don't want a repeat of that game, or of any of the other several games.
There's an extra dimension when Felix Hernandez starts a game in a National League ballpark. In an NL stadium, Felix gets to pitch and Felix gets to hit, and considering we tune in because we want to watch Felix amaze us, getting plate appearances provides Felix with just another potentially amazing avenue.
Tonight, Felix amazed us just about as best as he could. He didn't slug another home run, and he didn't go the distance on the mound, but tonight Felix justified the choice to watch a baseball game between two pretty bad teams late on a Saturday. I'm not saying all of us watched, and I reckon that the majority of you were up to something else, but those of us who did watch get to feel good about it. Seldom can one feel good about watching the Mariners play theon a Saturday night.
I'm not sure what it is about Felix batting, specifically. It's not just about Felix being a pitcher, because I don't think people really care about, say, Kevin Millwood batting yesterday, or Hector Noesi getting his hacks. It goes beyond that. Maybe it's as simple as the fact that it's Felix, and we love what fuels his ego. We love when he gets to celebrate a critical strikeout, and we love when he gets to celebrate a big hit. We want Felix to be the cockiest motherfucker this side of the ocean, any ocean, it doesn't matter. It's so laughable how overconfident Felix is about getting at-bats, but then there he goes, encouraging himself. So Felix thinks he's awesome at hitting. It's funny, and then sometimes, it's more funny.
Tonight, Felix batted in the second inning against Jason Marquis with two on and two out. The score was 1-1, and ROOT Sports made the mistake of opting for the following camera angle for Marquis' first pitch:
The broadcast was busy explaining something else, and Dave Sims had to catch up to explain a line drive just fair down the right-field line. Felix rocketed an extra-base hit the other way, breaking the tie and putting the Mariners in front 3-1. When Clayton Richard wound up on base Friday night, he couldn't help himself but smile. Richard knew it was hilarious each time he got a hit. Felix didn't smile, because in Felix's head, nothing was hilarious. In Felix's head, Felix is a hitter, and he stood on second base and pointed to the dugout, the way hitters do.
The pitch, as it happens, was an 89-mile-per-hour fastball right down the pipe. Marquis was looking to pitch down and away, but he missed over the middle, and now we can get a better understanding of just how hittable Jason Marquis really is. Or, that's something I might say if Marquis hadn't struck out six Mariners in seven innings. Marquis wasn't that hittable, but Felix hit him, even though Felix's shoulder flew way open. Felix pulled off of the pitch and still lined it to right. I'm not trying to analyze Felix's hitting mechanics because Felix's hitting mechanics are understandably terrible. But one of the problems that Dustin Ackley has sometimes is that he pulls off of the ball, and when he does that, he doesn't double to left. Felix shouldn't exist. Not in the way that he does.
The rest of Felix's night at the plate was kind of disappointing. In the fourth he was asked to bunt, and he couldn't bunt and he looked horrible bunting, probably because Felix doesn't ever want to practice his bunting. Felix doesn't think of himself as a bunter. In a two-strike count he flailed at a pitch near the dirt. In the sixth inning, Felix grounded out. In the eighth inning, Brendan Ryan walked to load the bases in front of Felix, but rather than give Felix a shot at a grand slam, Eric Wedge inserted John Jaso to pinch-hit. It was absolutely the proper move on Wedge's part. Felix is a bad hitter, Jaso is a good hitter, and Felix was already up to 94 pitches. Strategically, Wedge made the correct and obvious call. But what that was was a missed chance for magic. The Mariners weren't going to blow the lead they had, so I and others would've irrationally welcomed another Felix at-bat. But at least this way, he still has just the one career plate appearance with the bases loaded, and the one result of that plate appearance. That batting line hasn't been spoiled.
And ultimately what mattered wasn't the rest of Felix's night, because he already had the two-run, technically game-winning double. He already had Nick Hundley going out for a mound conference with Jason Marquis when Marquis had Felix behind 0-and-2. I'm sure that meeting was about something else entirely but I like to think Hundley had to remind Marquis not to make a mistake because Felix swings such a dangerous bat. Felix did enough, and now he has a grand slam in a pitcher's park, and a double in a pitcher's park. One notes that, according to Win Probability Added, Felix was the most valuable pitcher and the most valuable hitter. He didn't win this game on his own, but I'm becoming increasingly convinced that that's something he could do.
About that being the most valuable pitcher - Felix pitched a hell of a game too. His second in a row, after raising some concern. He threw just 94 pitches, which is an unusually low total for him when he's effective, but better than two-thirds of those pitches were strikes, and the Padres swung and missed 17 times. That's a season-high for Felix for swinging strikes, and his highest total since last August 7th. I'd forgotten that, last September, Felix got hit a lot. Granted, Jason Marquis contributed three of those swinging strikes, but that still leaves 14 out of a low pitch total.
We'll always be quick to worry about Felix, just because we love him so much, but this was one of those games that allows us to worry less. This was Felix doing what he was supposed to do against the Padres' starting lineup. He did get a break in the seventh when Mark Kotsay lined into a double play with runners on the corners, but Felix threw the pitch he wanted to throw, and that's why there are infielders. To catch the line drives they can catch. Felix would probably be willing to try a baseball game without any defenders behind him and he'd probably think he could do it, but I don't think Felix knows how to say no to a challenge.
It was on June 23, 2008 that Felix hit his grand slam. It was on June 23, 2012 that Felix hit his two-run double. The two-run double is less impressive than the grand slam off of Johan Santana, but then Felix got to work deep into this game on the mound, and didn't get injured on a play at the plate. This was the first June 23 Felix has pitched on since the grand slam game, and I think he did a hell of a job in honoring the anniversary. A lot of people freak out because they don't know what to do when an anniversary is approaching. Felix knew exactly what he wanted to do, and he did it. On the four-year anniversary of Felix hitting well and pitching well, he hit well and pitched well.
I was delayed for an hour and a half by a house guest in the middle of writing this so I'm not going to write much longer. Changing gears from Felix, Michael Saunders did an impressive thing tonight, as he hit this pitch for a home run:
Behind 1-and-0, Marquis got Saunders to swing and miss at an inside slider. He immediately came back with the same pitch, only a little higher, and Saunders pulled it on a line, down the line. It clanked off the foul pole, or it might've clanked off the giant golf club that is right next to the foul pole. If you didn't know that about the right field foul pole in Petco Park, now you do. Sometimes, when a hitter has put a lot of work into driving the ball up the middle and the other way, he has trouble seizing opportunities to pull. Saunders jumped on this pitch with very quick hands and punished it. It was an impressive home run in a different way from most impressive home runs.
Beyond that, Ichiro looked good, Franklin Gutierrez hit a solid single and nearly hit another home run, and Justin Smoak continued his world tour of warning tracks. If you've ever been curious about a warning track, Justin Smoak is the guy to talk to. Try not to ask him about what might lie beyond the warning track though because he probably doesn't want to talk about it.
Tomorrow the Mariners and Hector Noesi play the Padres and Edinson Volquez. Savor this game because after it comes a series against the A's, and ughhh