As you've probably heard by now, tonight was the night that Felix Hernandez recorded career strikeout #1000. Also career strikeouts #1001 and 1002. But nobody cares about 1002, and even though it's a neat little binary palindrome, nobody cares about 1001, either. It's all about the advancement from the hundreds into four-digit territory. It's enough to make us forget everything we've ever known about counting statistics. 1000 is a milestone for completely silly, irrational reasons, but it's a milestone nevertheless, and there are few things baseball fans enjoy more than celebrating a good old fashioned milestone.
Felix is now tied with some guy named George Earnshaw for 437th on the all-time list, and finds himself creeping up on Jose Mesa and Gil Meche. No matter the flaws in a given counting stat, that's an impressive achievement for a 24 year old, and I suppose more important than Felix reaching 1000 tonight is the fact that he became the fourth-youngest pitcher to do it. That at least tells you something. If a pitcher reaches 1000 career strikeouts, I won't think that much of him, other than he probably hung around for a little while. If a pitcher reaches 1000 career strikeouts at the age of 24, that tells me he came up and dominated from a very young age. That's the real accomplishment here. At 24 years and four months old, Felix has 1002 career strikeouts. When Cliff Lee was Felix's age, he had six. When Trevor Hoffman and Ron Guidry were Felix's age, they had zero.
And the extra fun part? Felix was in control tonight. He didn't limp his way to 1000. He sprinted there. Felix finished his game with nine whiffs, a walk, and four hits. Felix dominated the Red Sox and reached 1000 in classic fashion, with a swinging strikeout of David Ortiz on a low changeup, and he was able to pitch like this in a wet and hostile environment despite having to adjust his entire gameplan to pitch to the strike zone of one Dan Bellino.
And by that, I mean Dan Bellino wasn't giving the low strike to anyone. Courtesy of Brooks Baseball, here's the strike zone chart for tonight's game:
Nothing doing in the lower part of the zone. So how did Felix respond? Like this:
Now, that may not immediately stand out to you, but then compare it to how Felix pitched in his two starts previous:
Or, if that isn't doing it for you, consider this handy .gif. The differences are striking. Felix is a guy with a power two-seamer and offspeed pitches that fall off the table. He is a guy who spends a lot of time in the lower part of the zone, generating swings and misses and weakly-hit groundballs. Today, because Dan Bellino wouldn't budge on the lower stuff, Felix had to stay elevated. Felix had to locate like he dressed up as Jon Garland for Halloween.
And he still kept the Boston bats quiet.
Obviously, the Sox didn't send out their best lineup of the season, and Adrian Beltre's early ejection didn't make them any more threatening, but there's no denying the fact that Felix was near the top of his game, and he wasn't even pitching his game in the first place. Felix was pitching someone else's game. He was just doing it with his own weapons. Turns out his weapons are elevation-compatible.
I suppose one could say it's appropriate that Felix reached 1000 on a night where he had to adjust his approach away from his comfort zone. It's a testament to how far Felix has come, and how much we've seen him develop. Felix was dominant tonight. He's been dominant for the better part of two years. And, God willing, he'll keep on being dominant for years and years to come. Andy Benes and the 2000 mark are only 998 strikeouts away. With the Mariners scheduling Oakland 19 times every season, Felix should get there in no time at all.
- The Adrian Beltre ejection - and subsequent Terry Francona ejection - were curious, as they seemed to come out of nowhere. Beltre fouled off two pitches and took a third right down the middle for strike three, and walked away, and nothing more happened until Beltre took the field in the top of the next inning. It was then, while Tim Wakefield was warming up, that Beltre made an upward gesture with his glove. The announcers interpreted this as Beltre signaling to Bellino that the strikeout pitch was too low. Bellino apparently interpreted it the same way, and after a very brief discussion, he ran Beltre right out. Unfortunately:
Beltre and King Felix, M's teammates, had bet going about how 3B fared at plate vs him. Ump ejected Beltre as they were joking in Spanish
- Ryan Kalish is going to be my new Brian Lesher - a guy who just sounds like he's a high-OBP gap hitter with footspeed and a flair for the dramatic. It doesn't matter if it's true. In my head, he's already there. In my head, Lesher, Kalish, and Rusty Greer hang out on Sundays drinking limeade on the porch, slapping five over all the things they have in common. Important addendum: Ryan Kalish also sounds left-handed.
- With conventional pitchers, I usually have some idea of when they did and didn't execute their pitches. Oh, that was a great pitch. That was a bad pitch. That was a great pitch, but the batter still put the stick on it and got lucky. With knuckleballers, I'm totally lost. Whenever Tim Wakefield gives up a line drive or a home run, I just assume he threw a shitty knuckleball. It comes naturally to me. With knuckleballers, I'm never inclined to give the hitters any credit.
It would be funny if Tim Wakefield were the same way. It would be funnier if Steve Sparks were the same way.
- People overestimated the distance of Russell Branyan's home run in New York. People will underestimate the distance of J.D. Drew's home run tonight. Branyan's went to the fourth deck, while Drew's came down in the bleachers, but Drew hit his several rows back of a giant fence in straightaway center field that's something like 400 feet from home plate. Nobody was particularly wowed by Drew's blast, but my educated guess is that it won't come out that much shorter than Branyan's when all the math is done. Distance is one factor that goes into dinger response. Another - and perhaps a bigger one - is shit the ball hit.
Brandon League faced five hitters tonight. He started off the last four:
With one ball
With one ball
With two balls
With two balls
League has just 44 strikeouts in 65 innings.