There are, I think, three ways you can treat the end of the year, editorially:
- reflect on the year that was
- look ahead to the year that will be
- do whatever you want
Those are the three choices, and none is better or worse than any other. But I spend a lot of my time doing #3, and we all spend a lot of our time doing #2, since we're most interested in the Mariners' short-term future. I'm going to take this opportunity to do #1, since so many other people elsewhere are doing #1 and I'm actually more of a follower than a leader. If it's good enough for other people, it's good enough for me, that's what I always say, some of the time.
Of course, last year the Mariners lost 87 games and finished in last place for the third year in a row. There wasn't a whole lot to celebrate, and while the Mariners stand to have their last-place streak snapped in 2013, that's only because the new team joining the division is made up of 25 dogs in sweaters. If you kept a running tally, 2012 probably had more lowlights than highlights, and this isn't a time to be negative. We spend so much of the regular seasons negative that an offseason from baseball should also be an offseason from negativity. As such, in reflecting on the year that was -- the year 2012! -- I'm going to count down my personal favorite Felix Hernandez perfect games.
Be assured that this post was exhaustively researched, so that I didn't miss anything, and so that I can believe wholeheartedly in the validity and integrity of my list. There's nothing more annoying than an Internet list with an obvious, unforgivable oversight. There's literally nothing more annoying than that, it's science. So without many more words, here are the Felix Hernandez perfect games, presented in ascending order of being my favorite.
Without question, the best Felix Hernandez perfect game of 2012 took place on August 15, in Safeco Field. Here's a box score of what was a Wednesday matinee, against Jeremy Hellickson and the Tampa Bay Rays. No other Felix start was even close. It's worth noting that, overall, the Rays finished with baseball's third-best run differential, behind the Nationals and the Yankees. While Felix's wasn't the season's only perfect game, it was the season's only perfect game against a baseball team worth a damn. Because even when you talk about perfect games, there can be a hierarchy of impressiveness.
Something forgotten by many might be that the Mariners won the game 1-0. This was all about Felix; you kind of forget that the rest of the Mariners were also involved, and they had to score a run. The runner who scored was Brendan Ryan, who reached on a hit, stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a single by Jesus Montero. That single was a line drive, hit off a righty. It was an unlikely sequence of events that gave the Mariners their run, although to be fair, in Safeco in 2012, they were all unlikely sequences of events that gave the Mariners their runs.
Were it not for that run, who knows? A question I keep coming back to is how the Mariners might have celebrated a walk-off victory in the bottom of the ninth. Had, of course, Felix kept the perfect game intact, despite the different circumstances. Maybe the Mariners wouldn't have scored, and maybe the game wouldn't have ended after nine. The Mariners were that close to the perfect game being threatened.
And naturally, the perfect game was threatened in other ways. The Rays' very first batter drove the ball deep to right-center, where Eric Thames had to make a running catch. The Rays' second batter hit a grounder to Ryan, but Ryan uncorked a low throw to first that Justin Smoak had to pick. There were a couple line drives right at Mariner infielders. Felix's perfect game easily could've not been. This post, thus, easily could've not been, too.
But this is baseball, where all the margins are small, and the very fact that Felix's perfect game easily could've been spoiled is exactly what makes the perfect game so special. They're delicate little eggs, ruined even by fingerprints. They're tadpoles in a puddle, scattering away in all directions upon even the slightest acknowledgment of being. Felix has thrown special games that had the feel of potential perfect games, and always before, something happened. On this Wednesday, nothing happened, and Felix did what he was always supposed to be able to do.
And it's not like Felix did it with luck. There was some luck on his side, but as the game wore on, Felix took matters more and more into his own hands. You'll recall he finished with a dozen strikeouts, and eight of them came after the top of the fifth. Felix has long had the reputation of being a big-game pitcher, whatever that means for a pitcher on the Mariners, and implied is that Felix has the ability to step up under pressure, when adrenaline is coursing through his veins. You always want to believe that about your favorite players, and I want to believe it about Felix, and even though it probably isn't true, it was true on this particular afternoon. Felix saw what was within his reach, and he decided he'd try to take care of things himself.
Perfect games still mean something to me. No-hitters, less so, because there have been some ugly no-hitters, and we're all aware of the statistical principles regarding balls put in play. A perfect game is still the most impressive thing a pitcher can do, and Felix's didn't even have that signature defensive moment where one of the other guys preserves the bid by doing something spectacular. In a sense, Felix's perfect game validated the way we'd always talked about him. We almost took it for granted that such a thing would happen for Felix eventually. When it did happen, we weren't overcome with astonishment; it was the feeling of dreams fulfilled. We'd lived the moment in our sleep, and then we got to live the moment awake.
Sometimes I wonder how the feeling of watching Felix throw a perfect game would compare to the feeling of watching the Mariners win the World Series. In theory, we're all in this to see the Mariners win a championship, but Felix's perfect game kind of felt like the Mariners' championship, and I treat it the same. Every so often, months after the fact, I load up video highlights and get swept away. Even just the memory warms my heart, and I'm content in the knowledge that there was nowhere higher left to climb. I'm writing this post about Felix's perfect game, right now. Never having won a World Series, I don't know what it's like to win a World Series, but this must be at least some approximation. It's not like some Mariner threw a perfect game. Jason Vargas didn't hurl a perfect game on the road against the Royals. It was Felix, Felix fuckin Hernandez, and he did it at home against a good team in front of his own personal cheering section. How much better does it get, really? How much more satisfying could baseball ever be?
You win a World Series, and there's invariably going to be luck involved. There'll be contributions from everybody, such that you don't know if it would've been possible with even one minor change. Every single moment, big and small, led to the ultimate celebration. It happens and I imagine you tingle with the purest of joys. You live in the moment, and you make noises you never make. I don't think it's embarrassing to say that Felix's perfect game was the Mariners' World Series championship. You could take it as embarrassing that the Mariners have never won a championship, but Felix's game was that special. You could say we don't understand, because the Mariners have never won. We could counter that others don't understand, because others have never watched Felix throw a perfect game, like we did.
Maybe a World Series is Everest, and a Felix perfect game is K2. K2's not quite as big, but it's a hell of a lot more rare, and a hell of a lot less popular. You summit K2 and you aren't standing on the highest point on Earth. But you sure as fuck feel like you are, and you look around, and there's no more up. I guess you could go down and go back up again.
In time, eventually, Felix will get worse. Maybe he'll be something other than a Mariner. But Felix is a Mariner now, just as he's always been, and Felix threw a perfect game. Pedro Martinez threw a perfect game, sort of, but he lost it in the top of the tenth. Felix got to experience something Pedro never did. Felix got to experience something almost every pitcher never does. Felix is 26 years old, and though there's more to accomplish, that perfect game can never be taken away. It's something that he did, and we got to watch him do it.
The 2012 Seattle Mariners lost 87 games and finished in last place in the American League West. When I think about the season, it's that .gif above that loops in my head over and over and over. We didn't have it that bad. We were some of the fortunate ones.