The Mariners won today.
This is, in itself good news. Not news good enough to secure a playoff spot, or to cheer someone up from a bad week of emotional distress. It isn't news wonderful enough to excuse how late this recap got up or make anyone feel better that the Mariners have one of the worst offenses in all of baseball, but it's still good news. Because the whole idea is that if you do this a lot (win, that is), then you make the playoffs. If you make the playoffs, you have a better chance of winning the World Series, and if you win the World Series, well...then...that's kind of the whole point. The Mariners will need a Felix Hernandez to win the World Series. They had one tonight.
Tonight, Felix Hernandez almost pitched a complete game shutout against the Los Angeles Angels. When Lloyd McClendon decided to let him come out in the top of the ninth, everyone at Safeco stood to their feet and cheered harder than anything they had cheered for all night. Felix was three outs away from the end of the game, and almost made it. But first...the rest of the game.
The Mariners struck early, getting their first two runs across the plate in the bottom of the second inning. Justin Smoak led off the inning with a single, and was quickly sent to second when Kyle Seager walked. John Buck sent them all up a base with a ground ball out, and Dustin Ackley got a quick out to make it seem like the whole thing was going to be useless. Then, Mike Zunino--our All Star catcher waiting in the shadows--made his move. Zunino rocketed a 3-1 pitch from Wilson into right field, scoring both Smoak and Seager, and the game was quickly 2-0 Mariners.
The rest of the game passed mostly without incident, despite a few minor injury delays and an overturned replay call in the fourth inning. What is missing from this description is that Felix spent the entire game in an absolutely dominant zone: it appears summer Felix is here, and hopefully here to stay. He had nine strikeouts over 8.2 innings, and only gave up a run in the bottom of the ninth, an inning he probably shouldn't have pitched but did anyway, so whatever. Here's a quick little montage of his dominance on the evening:
Some will rightfully point out that while Felix was riding two hits into the sixth inning, the Mariners had only three of their own. This is true, and unfortunate. But at the end of the day, all that matters is that final score--and Mike Zunino decided to help out his own cause by adding another run in the eighth inning with a solo home run. Zunino was responsible for all the runs this evening, and while Felix was clearly the player of the game, it wouldn't have happened without his battery mate, sharp and ready in tow.
But yes--that ninth inning. Felix came back out and got two quick outs before giving up a double to Mike Trout. T hen, Albert Pujols looked at a few outside pitches and ripped a double of his own, ending the shutout and scoring Trout from second. Felix just wasn't hitting the plate, and Lloyd quickly came out and tapped his arm to call out Rodney, warmed and ready since the middle of the eighth. This seems to be a classic 2014 Mariners narrative, and one that might have validity on any other night than tonight. Yes, we can debate the efficacy of bringing out Felix to get the complete game. But he got two outs despite being clearly gassed, and the Mariners still won the game. Rodney came in the game and threw three pitches to David Freese and the game was quickly over.
Still, it couldn't be helped by anyone to imagine how close this game and Felix's gem was to being thrown in the garbage. This must be just what it's like to be a .500 team, closely riding the precipice of disaster and miraculous glory with every game played. Rodney notched the save, and thirteen thousand gasps emerged--no, thirteen thousand and one. They knew how close this game was to being lost. They knew how close a losing streak was to getting started. As he threw that 83MPH changeup to Freese, who quickly hit it out straight to Nick Franklin, Fernando Rodney took his requisite archer pose, celebrating the victory. Justin Smoak erupted in the biggest shit-eating grin this side of Kyle Seager's losing-streak beating walkoff dinger, knowing that the M's escaped certain death.
Nick Franklin jogged in the catch, trying to make it look cool, like he wasn't ecstatic to make the final out in an important win, remembering the particular color of Tacoma's red lights reflecting in the rain pools as he sat in his car driving away from Cheney Stadium every night. He wanted everyone to see how easy it was to secure that final out, as he was lodged between third and second base, knowing full well that he could man the left gap with the best of them, or at least better than someone else. He took a bite of his chew. He was cool. But everyone had to see it to believe it.
Mike Zunino finally stood up and locked his knees. He breathed a deeper sigh of relief than any single one of the thirteen thousand (and one) at Safeco now that the game was over, knowing full well where Rodney's pitches are capable of landing, and where his three tonight did. The game was over, and Zunino wanted to say something positive like great job! or spotted it well tonight! but all he could do was cock his head to the side and laugh--laugh that the Mariners were in this position in the first place, laugh that Felix was this close to a complete game, laugh that it was Rodney that saved them all. Mike Zunino had seen a lot of shit. By May 28th, 2014, though, he had seen it all.
Meanwhile, Felix Hernandez had made his way back into the Mariners' dugout. He untucked his jersey, took off his hat, and doused his hair in water from the orange Gatorade cooler sitting in the corner. He didn't even see Rodney's three pitches, because he knew the game was over before he left it. But then Roenis Elias tapped him on the shoulder and said something in Spanish that nobody else around them understood, and Felix knew he had to come out and give a bunch of high fives before he could go home for the day. He grabbed his water bottle, and took a sip. He took another sip. And another.
He was tired and thirsty, but that was more pressing than worrying about losing some dumb game where he struck out nine major league hitters and came within an out of securing a shutout win. Felix Hernandez has no time for anything like that. No, Felix Hernandez was the King, and he knew it. But even Kings get thirsty, now and then. Give the man a break, for crying out loud.