There was (and is) a town called Centralia, Pennyslvania. A small town built largely around the mining of coal. In 1962 the town was preparing for a Memorial Day celebration. In a tragi-comic attempt to assist in the clean up the local fire department set the local landfill on fire. I suppose the landfill was visible from the parade route or something. It was the 60's man. Things were wild.
The landfill burned. And burned. Then it caught some coal on fire. Then that coal caught some coal underground on fire. The fire burned. And burned. And burned. Slowly. Steadily. Year after year. It belched fumes into the air. It opened sinkholes in yards that swallowed youths. It slowly destroyed Centralia until in 1984 the federal government bought out the vast majority of residents and condemned the town. More than 50 years later the fire still burns beneath the Pennsylvania soil, and no one really knows when it will be quenched.
After the 2008 season I was disappointed in Felix Hernandez. Maybe disappointed is the wrong word. Mildly underwhelmed? Unfulfilled? The feeling was the result of my absurd expectations. Here we had a 22 year old just completing his 3rd full season in the major leagues. He had thrown 200 innings. He had made 30+ starts every year. He had compiled his 3rd season of greater than 3 WAR. He was, even at his most frustrating, a foundational talent.
But I noticed a K% stuck at 20.4% for the second straight year, which felt like a result below the quality of his pitches. I noticed a BB% that jumped almost 3% to a (still) career high of 9.3%. This was a man who's pitches had nicknames before he turned 19. We were burdened by the darkest nights of the Bavasi era. A space that large and that black requires a bright light to purge the darkness. It wasn't fair what I expected of him. But expect it I did.
In 2009, something sparked. Whether there was one moment of revelation for Felix or rather a series of adjustments brought by time and experience. That spark ignited the fire that has created the Felix Hernandez we have today. The burn is hot but it is also steady. Observe the narrow range of excellence in which Felix has existed since the beginning of the 2009 season:
We are in the beginning the 6th season of the true reign of The King and the fire is refining his excellence down further and further to a more pristine form of greatness. Since 2009 Felix's K% has increased every year while his BB% has dropped every year. His fastball has lost almost 2.5 MPH over that span. It doesn't matter. His results keep getting better. Through 2 starts in 2014 he has a K% of 33.3% and a BB% of 3.5%.
Tonight Felix is going to pitch at Safeco for the first time this year. You probably already know that the team is doing the Supreme Court promotion which, along with its older and smaller brother King's Court is one of the great traditions in the history of Seattle Sports. If you've never done it before you should go. Not "you should go if the weather holds and you have an open schedule". You should go if there's tornadoes and you have to offer a babysitter a place in your will. This is where I remind you that pitchers are terrifying and every start, every healthy pitch is a miracle.
Do not ignore the truly miraculous, particularly when it comes with a free t-shirt.
That sounds more foreboding than I care to sound today. Pitchers ARE scary. Their health and talent is constantly on a knife's edge. But this is Felix. His fire has burned for years. Slowly, steadily, without ceasing, and no one really knows when it will be quenched.
All hail The King.