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Felix Hernandez Reminds AL East He Does Not Pitch In AL East


Andrew Cashner started for the Padres tonight against the Astros in Houston. Cashner was just up from the minors, where the Padres had him stretch out as a starter, and he began today by throwing six no-hit innings. Shortly before this game between the Mariners and the Red Sox got going, Cashner's no-hit bid was broken up. Grant Brisbee and I both let out a sigh of relief in the Baseball Nation editorial chat room, because we both had games about to start, and yet we have to be on high alert when there's a no-hitter going on.

It took two innings until I started to think we'd have to be on high alert for Felix Hernandez. I mean, I'm always on high alert for Felix Hernandez just because, and sometimes if I'm watching a different pitcher I think if I turn my head away and then turn it back it will be Felix on the mound instead, but this was different. This had that feel of a no-hitter watch, from the very beginning.

Felix's first inning was all right. He got settled. He got outs. By the second inning, he was comfortable. He figured out what he was going to do and how he was going to do it, and the Red Sox were helpless to change his mind. Think of a baseball game like a blowout house party. Think of a Mariners baseball game like a blowout house party except I guess with less scoring. Felix walked into the party tonight and he took a few minutes to feel it out and pick up the vibe. From there, he was in a social groove, and there wasn't anything anybody could do to knock him out of it. Felix just walked through the door and took the party over.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia was sent away with little problem. So was Adrian Gonzalez, and so was Will Middlebrooks. The last pitch to Gonzalez was clocked by PITCHf/x at 95 miles per hour. All of the sharpness was there, and all of the movement was there. Felix had tried his damnedest to no-hit the Red Sox before. It looked like he was going to try his damnedest to do it again.

All things considered, the no-hitter was off the table surprisingly early, as Mike Aviles and Daniel Nava knocked consecutive singles in the third. Felix had retired all of eight straight batters before giving up his first hit, and he'd taken bids much longer than that before. But a thing about Felix is that I don't think he needs that no-hitter. Take a guy like, hell, Chris Capuano, and if he works on a no-hitter that ultimately gets snapped, he'll lose the crowd. He'll revert from potential history-maker to Chris Capuano. With Felix, we'd all like to see him at the center of that mob someday, but even after he's allowed a hit or three, he's no less electric. Felix has still never before thrown a no-hitter, and we've still on so many occasions hung on every pitch.

The way Felix pitched tonight made me feel like an idiot for having ever been worried about him. There were reasons for that, and Felix himself acknowledged that he was messed up, but then Felix worked on making things better and he built up to this. This performance, against one of the better offensive teams in baseball. The outing against the Giants was great, but it was against the Giants. The outing against the Padres was great, but it was against the Padres. This was against the Red Sox, and let me give you a little glimpse of what the Red Sox were saying later.

To my memory, Felix never said to the media there was nothing to worry about. Plenty of other people did, including coaches and media members themselves, but I don't remember Felix saying everything was fine. After he watched himself on video, he said the exact opposite of that. But this game was Felix's way of telling all of us, everybody, "I'm okay." Remember what it was like when we were worried about Felix Hernandez? I remember that it happened. That was a phase, that came to an end.

I get the sense it's something we'll laugh about later on. Years ago, I used to hit small rocks with a baseball bat in the backyard to pass the time. One afternoon, I noticed that each time I swung, I felt a sharp fleeting pain behind my forehead. That night I made the mistake of watching House. The same sensation was there the next day when I tried swinging again, and I got it in my head that I should be worried about brain cancer. That idea remained present and distressing until it was gone because the pain was gone. A week later, everything was normal, and I realized I wasn't dying. I didn't think I was dying then, but I couldn't stop entertaining the idea that something was wrong. It sounds so unfathomably stupid now. It sounds so stupid I was hesitant to write out this paragraph. It's funny the things we end up considering, and it's funny the way we don't realize how much of it is just our own brains fucking around with us. So much of your worry isn't real. So much of our worry ... well there's no worry anymore. Felix made sure of that.

I don't have a favorite pitch that Felix threw tonight because my favorite pitch was all of them. Ryan Kalish struck out in the third. David Ortiz struck out, Adrian Gonzalez struck out. Cody Ross struck out, Ryan Kalish struck out again. Dustin Pedroia struck out. Strikeouts, so many strikeouts, not to the point where it was nothing but strikeouts, but to the point where a non-strikeout was disappointing, even if it was a grounder to the shortstop. Will Middlebrooks struck out. Cody Ross struck out.

Tonight, Felix tied his career-high for strikeouts, with 13. The previous marks were set against Oakland in 2010 and San Diego in 2011, so I think Boston in 2012 wins as the most impressive of the trio. Additionally, tonight Felix established a new career-high for swinging strikes, with 22. Of the Red Sox's swings, 22 of them missed. Felix has reached 21 before, against the Giants in 2009. He'd never reached 22, and he'd never otherwise broke 20. Granted, Felix wound up throwing a lot of pitches tonight. He gave himself more opportunities to generate swinging strikes. The point is, he seized them. Felix is fun when he's difficult to hit; Felix is the greatest pitcher on earth when he's untouchable. I can't imagine there's a more enjoyable pitcher to watch when he's at the top of his game. I understand that I'm wildly biased, but I don't see how another model could be superior to this one. Felix at his best is an unstoppable killing machine. There are other talented mortals, but they all go to bed and have the same dream about being the same someone else.

Was this the best start of Felix Hernandez's career? I don't know the answer to that, and I could never know the answer to that. There's too much to take into consideration, if we want to do anything even remotely accurate and worthwhile. But in terms of results, it's hard to beat a complete-game shutout against the Red Sox with a walk and 13 strikeouts. I'm not going to try to figure out if this was the best game Felix has ever had. It's enough to say it's in the conversation. Felix proved that he's capable of this start in 2012, and so he proved beyond any doubt that he's still among the very greatest. That's what's important. The rest is just trivia.

Of course, wouldn't you know it, but in perhaps the greatest start of Felix's career, Felix came close to not winning. Visions of that game against the Indians flashed before my eyes as this game advanced to the ninth inning scoreless. What scoring opportunities there were were limited in number, and the only non-Felix highlight was a sensational sliding catch by Casper Wells in the eighth up against a concrete wall. Wells is going to feel that catch tomorrow, but I doubt he's feeling it today. There was a lowlight, of course, and that was Franklin Gutierrez getting hit on the side of the head by an errant pickoff throw that Adrian Gonzalez couldn't haul in. Gutierrez sustained a mild concussion, and it's just devastating the miserable luck he continues to suffer through. But to take nothing away from Gutierrez, I don't think that many people were thinking about him as the Mariners and Red Sox played run-scoring chicken. Come the ninth, all that was on my mind was Felix getting through the inning, and the Red Sox's reliever not.

It began well. Dustin Pedroia went away, swinging through a fastball. But David Ortiz lined a single through airspace previously occupied by Felix's skull, and then Jarrod Saltalamacchia turned an 0-and-2 count into a walk. Felix was in trouble, his pitch count was up, and he fell behind Adrian Gonzalez 3-and-0. You knew it was going to be left up to Felix, but for the first time all night I sensed that maybe he wouldn't escape.

Given a green light, Gonzalez swung through a fastball. He fouled off four consecutive pitches, more or less in the same spot. The ninth pitch of the at-bat was a fastball that Felix wanted on the outer edge, but that ran more over the plate. Gonzalez drove it to the left side of center, and as I watched the ball off the bat my heart sank, but thankfully Franklin Gutierrez had been replaced by Michael Saunders instead of a normal center fielder, and Saunders ran the ball down in the gap. The runners had to retreat, thinking the ball would find grass. One pitch later, Will Middlebrooks popped out behind second to end the inning. Three players converged, and for an instant you thought zero players would catch the baseball. One player caught the baseball, and Felix roared, as Felix roars.

For as meaningless as pitcher wins are, they mean something to the pitchers, and the Mariners had one last opportunity to give a win to Felix. One last opportunity to give him something he'd so infrequently been given. It was Casper Wells who started the rally with a double. And it was John Jaso who ended the rally with a pinch-hit single. Wells swung at and lined the first pitch. Jaso swung at and lined the first pitch.

More accurately, one might say it was John Jaso and Saltalamacchia who ended the rally with a single and a dropped catch. Jaso did single, and Wells did run home, but he would've been out had Saltalamacchia been able to handle a low throw. He thought he did handle it, and after sweeping at Wells with his glove he showed the ball to the umpire, but that's when Saltalamacchia realized the ball was instead on the ground, several feet away. Wells slapped home plate, and the Mariners poured out of the dugout to beat the shit out of some heroes.

This game came so close to being so much worse. To being just another heartbreaking disappointment. Maybe Saunders doesn't haul in Gonzalez's drive, or maybe the Mariners don't score in the ninth and the Red Sox win it in extras. But it's precisely that threat of heartbreak that made this win so fulfilling. Only three, maybe four Mariners did anything worth a damn, and the same could be said in many of the Mariners' losses, but for a night it's not about the Mariners scoring one run in Safeco Field. It's about the Mariners providing just enough offense for a dominant Felix Hernandez. This was a game with negatives unspoken.

The Mariners are now 33-45, 16 games out of first in the AL West and nine and a half games out of the Wild Card. More appropriately, they're a game away from having the worst record in the whole American League. That game could've been tonight. But it wasn't, and those who watched or attended will remember this game far longer than they'll remember the Mariners' record after it. In some ways, it's all about the big picture, and in some ways, it's all about the 5x7 you keep in a frame at your bedside.

What we've established this week is that not all 1-0 baseball games are created the same. In closing, here are pictures of Felix running out of the dugout, the bullpen high-fiving after doing nothing at all, and Munenori Kawasaki waving to the crowd as if to say "look, I'm in a baseball uniform!" These are our Mariners.