I woke up this morning and poured myself a cup of coffee and then I walked into the shower. There was water running down my face, warm to the touch, and my eyes were closed. I was standing right there in the shower dreading the fact that I was going to have to come up with some new creative way to describe a Felix 10K no decision in a few hours. This is bad. This is a bad thing.
I still get excited about Felix starts, of course. I'm not some kind of lunatic. But this has become a part of following the best pitcher in baseball on the team that just so happens to be in my geographical region. It's kind of like when your brain kickstarts a vision of tomorrow's hangover before you drink your first beer, or letting the discomfort of eventually having to clean the sand out of your shoes and car floor ruin your drive to the beach. I stood there only minutes removed from sleep, and the way I entered into Sunday, June 29th was chained to anxiety. And I know I'm not the only one.
But see, then, this team decides to go out and do something entirely different for once. Well, sort of. Let's not get ahead of ourselves here. The Mariners were coming into today's getaway game after a one-hit shutout last night, and they were hopefully desperate to do something a little different on the offensive plan. And that they did. Sort of. The first inning saw a bunch of exciting small-ball activities shepherded by WFB, who lead off the game with a single, and was thrown out at second on a Cano grounder. Indians' first baseman Nick Swisher missed the double play relay, though, and Cano was safe. Blowers went into this whole spiel about how the Indians are the worst defensive club in the American League, and heh, remember that story.
After this, Seager singled and Mike Zunino walked to load the bases and it was nothing like yesterday! Except then it was because Logan Morrison struck out swinging, and the Mariners didn't really do anything else through five innings of the rest of the game. So, yep, same old story there.
On the other end of this though, was Felix Hernandez. Felix walked Michael Brantley in the first inning, and then kept the Indians off the bases until the fifth inning. It was like there were two teams on the field, dueling with each other in nothingness through five innings. Except the whole thing about pitching and defense is that you want and strive for nothingness. It means you are performing well. And perform well Felix did.
Felix lasted eight innings today, and only gave up a single hit the entire day. He carried a no-hitter into the top of the fifth inning, when Lonnie Chisenhall walloped a curveball into centerfield to break it up. Then, up came David Murphy, who worked a 2-2 count before whapping a liner parallel with the third base line, caught on the run by Kyle Seager. Seager took less than a second and threw a cannon shot back to first as he was falling backward, doubling off Lonnie Chisenhall, who was caught sleeping between the bags. It made Felix very happy.
Still, though, it was getting a little scary. Felix was dealing and had just lost a no-hitter, but was well in line to tear through some Cleveland bats through the rest of the game. And yet, the Mariners had been looking foolish and sleepy through the last four innings. This thing again. The Mariners were going to shit the bed and Felix was going to walk back to the dugout with a no-decision. Up walked Michael Saunders.
Indians' starter T.J. House was himself mowing down some Mariners, so to either try and square up a better hit later in the at-bat or out of fear promulgated from the dugout, Saunders got the signal to bunt. Foul. Then, a swinging strike on the exact same pitch. Two strikes. But after this House came back with a fastball that Saunders got a tiny piece of with a swinging bunt, and the ball was down on the grass in front of the pitcher's mound. Saunders took off like the wind, and just as House launched a ball at first baseman Nick Swisher, Blowers' comment from earlier took flight and knocked the ball just out of Swisher's glove. Saunders was safe. Then he was safe at second. Then he was safe at third. The Indians are bad.
If it felt like a day where the Mariners only needed a run to win, then having a plus baserunner on third with no outs was a great way to get it. Except, you know, this happened.
Hear that noise? That tiny little hissing sound like the air going out of a balloon? Yes, that's the sound of everyone who freaked out about Robinson Cano's mini-slump coming back down to earth.
The best part about this is that the at-bat started with a pitch right at Cano's head, which Blowers went to great lengths to describe as unintentional but...come on. Just a little. Besides, the same exact thing happened last night (look at the photo on yesterday's recap). It's not that the Indians were trying to hit him in the head, which they weren't, but they were certainly trying to keep him off the plate, and then some.
Still, Cano leaned back and adjusted his batting gloves. It awoke something within him, and you could read it on his face. He's been riding this weird lack of power like a champ this season, filling his pocket with singles and then blankly telling reporters after the game that he just wants to help the team win any way he can. But with the still burning smell of leather hovering only inches from his face, something happened. Just look at that mini bat flip. This is the Cano that the Mariners shelled out a quarter of a billion dollars for. Maybe he just needed to remind himself.
Lloyd pulled Romero out of the lineup after this inning, comfortable with the lead. Jones replaced him in center, and quickly after the game, the move we all expected happened:
The #Mariners have optioned OF Stefen Romero to AAA Tacoma following today's game. Corresponding move will be made tomorrow.— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) June 29, 2014
So it's Taijuan for sure tomorrow.
But yes, the rest of the game. Felix looked great through the next two innings, and despite a walk to Carlos Santana and a baserunner in the seventh for the M's, it was blanks. Still, the M's couldn't resist putting another run on the board in the eighth after Cano beat out an infield grounder and was sent to third after a Kyle Seager single. Seager saw something weird in the outfield as the Indians chased his ball, and did this goofy little hop-skip thing that I hope someone can find on his way to second. It cost him the base, though, as he realized he shouldn't have gone and was picked off back at first. But Zunino scored Cano with a rocket to left, and then it was Rodney time. He retired the ninth in order thanks to yet another hot grab by Kyle Seager that you should probably watch here.
So yes, Mariners good, Indians bad, Felix better. It feels nice to know that they didn't waste another Felix start, and someday, someday soon anyway, that whole narrative should be put to bed. Now, actually. Let's put it to bed now.
Here's the thing: we all know that the whole Lose-A-Felix-Game-0-1 thing has been a near decade scourge on the organization. It's been a thing that we come to expect so much that we start seeing remnants of it in places that don't even carry it. I don't want to say the Mariners will stop finding ways to royally fuck up Felix games anymore, because we all know that isn't true, but Felix's bad luck this year has been about as average as the bad luck any team's ace occasionally faces. Take a look at this chart:
This doesn't include today's win, but just look at it (I know some of it's wonky, but work with me here). Felix has only lost two games this year that even come close to fitting that old narrative. And sure, he had a no decision in that stupid Tampa Bay game. So three. Three classic low offense Felix games. Compare that to this, the year he won his Cy Young:
Now to be fair, we should only count through today's date to compare these two seasons. But even then--that's seven games with bad offense to this year's two or three. In short: Felix Hernandez is a monster right now, and the Mariners have finally grown up a little bit. Just because this narrative has been so true for so long doesn't mean it's true anymore. I'm not sure it is.
The debate isn't whether he's going to be in the All-Star game, its whether or not he will start the All-Star game. It's not even July yet, and that's usually when he starts to heat up. The Mariners are six games over .500. And tomorrow the league gets to meet another member of the Royal Court.