oh so now Tom Wilhelmsen understands what was happening
It was toward the end of July - well under a month ago, in fact - that the Mariners traded Ichiro. They just traded him, out of nowhere, to the Yankees of all teams, right as the Yankees were getting set to play the Mariners in Seattle. It was bizarre, unfathomably bizarre. We thought we could fathom it but I do not think we fathomed it appropriately, or enough. After that happened, I just kept wanting to write "the Mariners traded Ichiro! To the Yankees!" for days upon days. The Mariners traded Ichiro! To the Yankees! How did we ever stop talking about that?
Yesterday afternoon, Felix Hernandez threw a perfect game on a perfect day in a perfect ballpark in a perfect region in front of a perfect personal cheering section. The hell with Ichiro, why would we ever stop talking about this? I mean, we will, and we probably will tomorrow, but we won't be right. We won't keep talking about Felix. We should keep talking about Felix, until every last angle has been explored, and then explored again.
We wrote about how, in the later innings of Felix's effort, it was like he started to ramp things up. Sometimes when pitchers are working on history they're not even aware of it. We know that Felix was aware of it, because his velocities suggested as much, and because Felix stated as much in a post-game interview. Felix started out throwing his fastball 92-94. He finished throwing his fastball 94-96. Not that Felix's fastball was the story of the day; it was Felix's offspeed stuff that allowed him to throw one of the greatest starts in baseball history.
About Felix's fastball, though. What follows depends on the accuracy of the PITCHf/x system, and if PITCHf/x is inaccurate, there's nothing I can do. In the absence of any clear reason not to, I have to believe in it. So, assuming that PITCHf/x is correct, in the sixth inning Felix threw a fastball to Sean Rodriguez at 95.6 miles per hour. In the seventh inning Felix threw a fastball to Matt Joyce at 95.6 miles per hour. This spreadsheet tells me those were Felix's fastest pitches of the entire season.
Which, I suppose, shouldn't come as a surprise. Why wouldn't Felix have thrown his fastest pitches of the entire season yesterday afternoon? It's August, which means his arm strength has built up. It was, quite honestly, a perfect day, with perfect skies and a perfect temperature. And there was the whole perfect-game thing going on, sending adrenaline through Felix's body like a haboob through the streets of Phoenix. The conditions were ideal, and Felix unleashed the fastball we'd all been waiting for. Then he resumed unleashing the secondary stuff that let him be perfect.
It isn't all that meaningful that Felix's velocity peaked on Wednesday, but, symbolically, I love that it did. After all of our concerns, after all of our questions, Felix yesterday left no room for doubt. There's nothing left. If you think about it, we weren't concerned about the actual velocity - we were concerned about what it might mean. We were concerned that reduced velocity would leave Felix as something less than an ace, and we were concerned that reduced velocity might indicate an injury. Felix pitched like an ace with reduced velocity, he pitched like something greater than an ace with normal velocity, and he's as healthy as he's ever been. There are no questions. In this moment, as far as Felix Hernandez is concerned, we are all at peace. He has achieved perhaps the greatest achievement. He might well do it again the next time he's on the mound. Felix won't be the greatest for the rest of his life, but in this moment, Felix is perfect. Felix is just perfect.
Felix's strikeout rate is at a career high. Felix's walk rate is at a career low. He owns the lowest FIP in the American League, and he's thrown the most innings in the majors. Something that used to drive every Mariners fan insane was the way the organization seemed to destroy every quality pitching prospect it could get its hands on. There are a lot of things, innumerable things that make Felix special, and that is one of them. Almost everybody else fell apart. This guy didn't. Of all of them, I'm the most thankful that this guy didn't.