Felix Hernandez threw a perfect game
The game came to an end with a perfectly-located changeup at 92 miles per hour on the low, inside corner. Sean Rodriguez didn't swing, but there wasn't any controversy - the pitch was unquestionably a quality strike. The highest-quality strike. The only real question was whether it was actually a changeup, or if it was a two-seamer. I assume changeup since by that point Felix's fastball was touching 95 and 96. The game came to an end with a pitch that only Felix Hernandez could throw. That was the way that it had to be. Felix took control of this game and made it his own.
Upon the conclusion, I shrieked and danced around like an idiot like everyone else. You never know exactly how you look at these moments and it's probably best that you don't. We're all vain and these moments would do nothing for our vanity. Felix Hernandez threw a perfect game. Felix Hernandez had already hit a grand slam off of one of the best starting pitchers in the world, but now Felix Hernandez had thrown a perfect game. At home, with the Mariners, in front of his Court, against a playoff contender. This start was every start in the making. It felt like it took forever to get here; Felix is 26 years old.
I had the option then of beginning to write, or thinking about things some more. I'm not trying to make this about me, because obviously this is all about Felix, but this part of the process is necessary. I decided to sit and think. To sit and watch highlights and make .gifs and scream on Twitter, but also to think. I wanted to try to let this experience sink in, before I made an effort to put it into words.
I sat, I thought, and I calmed down just a little bit. Now that I've removed myself from the immediate emotion, I can make the following statement without running the risk of being hyperbolic: that was one of the very greatest baseball games that ever has been pitched.
By the ways that we can measure them, at least. Obviously, you'd think it would qualify just on the basis of being a perfect game, since there haven't been a lot of perfect games, but I'm not thinking about the baserunner total. There have probably been one- and two- and three-hit games that were better than certain perfect games. In Mark Buehrle's perfect game he practically allowed a home run. In Matt Cain's perfect game he allowed that hard shot to the gap that Gregor Blanco had to flag down. Also that was against the Astros. Felix hardly got himself into any trouble at all, and by the end he was basically taking on the Rays on his own. They say that no-hitters and perfect games are team efforts. The team behind Felix did a lot of work, but Felix put the Mariners on his shoulders and took them on a piggyback ride into history.
That brilliant defensive play you expect there to be one of in these things, that element of luck that lets everything else come together - Felix didn't need much luck. He certainly didn't need any luck toward the end. The best defensive play might've been a running catch by Eric Thames in the first at-bat of the game. In the fourth, Sam Fuld lined out right to Kyle Seager. In the fifth, Evan Longoria lined out right to Dustin Ackley. That was all. Felix didn't go the distance allowing zero line drives, but he allowed just the two of them, and the most fortunate moment might've come in the top of the seventh. B.J. Upton bounced a grounder to Brendan Ryan at short. Seager ranged over and made a diving attempt, but the ball got by him and found Ryan, who turned it into a routine 6-3. Had Seager tipped the ball, it all might've ended, and ended unnecessarily. He didn't. Felix's luckiest moment came when one of his defenders didn't touch the baseball while attempting a spectacular dive.
Let's just go ahead and acknowledge that it would be impossible for me to put into words Felix's last few innings. It was around the fourth or the fifth that it looked like Felix might be on his way to something special. No Ray had reached base, and Felix had command of all of his pitches, most particularly his curveball, which looked as regal as it ever has. There had been a little bit of luck, but all of Tampa Bay's plate appearances had resulted in outs, and with every passing out, there was one fewer out left for Felix to record. It's hardly a new sensation to be watching Felix and sense that he's got a shot at history, and that sensation was present today in spades.
Felix seemed special early. Then he turned it on. Then Felix decided that he wasn't going to let this bid slip out of his hands. Felix Hernandez wound up with a perfect game. Through the final few innings, Felix was a perfect pitcher. One could not pitch better than Felix pitched.
We have to look at the numbers, because I'm most comfortable looking at the numbers. Through five innings, the Rays had made 15 outs. Four of those outs had been strikeouts, and four of those outs had been groundouts. There had been 28 attempted swings, and seven of them were whiffs.
Over the final four innings, the Rays made 12 outs. Eight of those outs were strikeouts, and four of those outs were groundouts. There were 31 attempted swings, and 19 of them were whiffs. Felix went through the entire order and a third, and no one could do anything. The four grounders were routine. The Rays were fortunate that there were four grounders. Felix amped it up and took his defense almost completely out of the equation. Felix decided that he was going to throw a perfect game, and Felix decided he wasn't going to let his teammates jeopardize the opportunity.
Just the other day I was reading a blog post critical of a manager's strategy. The details don't matter. The post talked about how pitchers wear down as games go on, and about how the hitters are far more successful the third time through the lineup. One of several things that makes Justin Verlander remarkable is the way that he ramps up his velocity as he works deeper and deeper. Most pitchers, even when they pace themselves, lose velocity and lose effectiveness as they work. Verlander frequently does the opposite. Felix did the opposite. Felix, at the beginning, was throwing a fine, generic Felix game. Felix, at the end, was the very best that Felix has ever been in his life.
Felix first touched 95 miles per hour with two outs in the top of the sixth. He first touched 96 miles per hour later in the same at-bat. He kept it up in the seventh, and in the eighth and the ninth. The last fastball that Felix threw clocked in at 95. Remember when we were worried about Felix's velocity? Remember when team officials kept reassuring us that Felix had that old velocity in his back pocket? I don't know if Felix had that velocity in his back pocket a few months ago. He had it there today, and then he took it out, because when ever use it if not under precisely these circumstances?
In the sixth inning, Felix started throwing his best fastball of the season. That's terrifying. More terrifying is that he didn't lean on it. Felix had his best fastball, and he also had his best other stuff, so he kept on throwing the other stuff.
The inning that looked to be the most challenging was the top of the eighth, when the Rays would send Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, and Carlos Pena to the plate. It took Felix 13 pitches to strike out the side, all swinging. One of those pitches was 95. One of those pitches was 92. The rest were below, and Longoria and Pena struck out on curveballs, while Zobrist struck out on a changeup. There was no predictability in terms of pitch sequencing or pitch locations. The only thing that was predictable was that a Ray would walk up to the plate and then a short while later the Ray would return to the dugout dejected. They didn't need to be dejected - there was nothing they were able to do. But in such circumstances it's only human nature to blame yourself, even if you were in no way at fault.
Something that many will forget is Joe Maddon's attempted stall tactic in the seventh. With two outs, Matt Joyce took a first-pitch fastball off the plate for a called strike, and Maddon came out to argue, getting himself ejected. Maddon did have a legitimate gripe, as the pitch should've been a ball, but it was a lefty strike, the Rays were given a more egregious lefty strike, and Maddon is Jose Molina's manager. Maddon might've seen an opportunity to complain, but he presumably wanted more than anything to knock Felix out of his rhythm. As is his right. Hitters try to knock pitchers out of their rhythm all the time. Sometimes it works. Today it didn't. After Maddon complained, Joyce grounded out, and then Felix struck out five of the final six batters. Maddon at least had a better view of the game from the clubhouse. It's probably easier to appreciate Felix's artistry on TV than it is from a dugout off to the side. I'm assuming here that Maddon settled down and allowed Felix to take his breath away.
Felix proved that he couldn't have his rhythm snapped. The Mariners' hitters helped him out in that regard, as they kept him from getting cold on the bench. They got their run and then they proceeded with the outs. For once we were rooting for the Mariners to make outs as quickly as possible. It was in the third that Jesus Montero singled home Brendan Ryan. Had it not been for that single, who knows? Maybe the Mariners would've walked off in the ninth in the strangest perfect game celebration in baseball history. Maybe the game would've continued into extras, and maybe Felix would've continued his perfect game into extras. We don't know what could've been, but we know what was, and it was perfect, literally.
Felix also proved that we should all move beyond jinxes now. Not that Felix is the first pitcher to throw a no-hitter or a perfect game after people have started talking about a no-hitter or a perfect game, but the Mariners' broadcast very openly talked about what was going on, and Felix completed the effort anyway. I can't imagine that anybody who reads this website believes in no-hitter jinxes, because that is the stuff of six-year-olds and idiots, but just in case, now what? Dave Sims talked about Felix Hernandez throwing a perfect game, and Felix Hernandez threw a perfect game. If you complain about a jinx the next time something like this threatens to happen you deserve to be locked in a jail.
Felix Hernandez threw a perfect game. Today, he did it. Literally my only complaint is that shortly after the final out was recorded the Safeco PA started playing that "Perfect Day" song from Legally Blonde and I thought I'd buried that song in the same mental grave as Republica. It's back now, all zombified, and for the rest of my life I'll be associating Felix Hernandez with Reese Witherspoon. It's been a special day when your biggest complaint about a baseball game concerns something that happened after the baseball game.
I've written several times before about how I was in attendance at Fenway for Felix's 2007 one-hitter. Of course I've written about that a bunch before - I write about the Mariners all the time, and that's a special memory. On that evening, Felix stole the stage from Daisuke Matsuzaka, and on that evening, Felix Hernandez came one J.D. Drew away from a road no-hitter. This game retroactively changes the way I feel about that game. That was the greatest baseball game I've ever attended in my life, and I couldn't be happier that I skipped a day of classes. Still, there was that tinge of sorrow, that Felix came so close to making history and might never again come closer. Now Felix has done it. Hell, Felix has done one better. Instead of a no-hitter, he threw a perfect game, and instead of doing it on the road, he did it at home in front of his own personal cheering section. Now that isn't the game that got away. It's *a* game that got away, before Felix found the game that didn't. When the Red Sox finally won the World Series, they felt a hell of a lot better about Bill Buckner. This isn't like that, but it is. I'm sorry that J.D. Drew prevented me from attending a Felix no-hitter, but J.D. Drew couldn't prevent Felix from making history later on.
There's so much more to say that I don't know how to say. When Matt Cain threw his perfect game at home against the Astros, the Giants played again the very next afternoon, and they lost. We get to sit on this one. The Mariners don't play at all tomorrow. On Friday they don't play until late. We get two days of thinking about Felix Hernandez throwing a perfect game completely uninterrupted by other Mariners baseball. Two days isn't enough, six months wouldn't be enough, but you couldn't ask for better in-season circumstances. Felix threw a perfect game at home in a Wednesday matinee. The Mariners resume their schedule late Friday night. That's a lot of time to think about Felix, and make Felix .gifs. (I'll make most of the .gifs.)
There was a funny post-game anecdote that made the rounds on Twitter. Jack Zduriencik stepped into a crowded media elevator. He took his cell phone out of his pocket, held it up to his ear, and said, no, we're not trading Felix. Felix is ours, and you can't have him.