Today, Felix Hernandez did something he had never done before. That thing was to strike out 15 batters in a single game, and he reached that number in the seventh inning.
Also today, Felix Hernandez did something he had done seemingly hundreds of times before. That thing was to depart the field after an absolutely devastating monster performance without run support to get the win.
That narrative has kind of been driven into the ground, especially as it hasn't been a thing during the past couple of years. Hell, this year so far he's 8-1 and you can't really compare that to what's happened in the past. But it's frustrating nonetheless--a subtle reminder that we are specks floating on a giant rock hurtling through space and that the universe doesn't seem to give a shit that the best pitcher in the world had 15 strikeouts and wasn't going to get the win.
That, or the universe was just proving that pitcher wins and losses are kind of stupid. And before you jump into the defense that it matters to Felix or Cy Young voters or this or that, we should look at the simple fact that the Mariners won the game today, and Felix had the most added win probability of anyone on the team despite everyone suddenly remembering how to hit triples in the ninth.
For all our rabble rousing about an inept offense and our desire to give the King some run support, he stopped the Rays from scoring through seven innings. The Mariners bats didn't give Felix a chance to notch his ninth win of the season, but Felix gave the Mariners a chance to win the game. And boy, was it something. Not only did Felix make the Rays look silly with fifteen strikeouts today, he also notched his career 1,800 strikeout. Take a look here:
He ranks tenth in career strikeouts among active pitchers, and he is only one of two pitchers in the top 20 still in his twenties. Tim Lincecum turns 30 in seven days, so by then Felix will be the only one. Holy shit, you guys. Felix Hernandez.
There was very little offensive anything until the top of the fifth inning, as the Rays' Chris Archer shut the Mariners down well himself. He only ended the game with two strikeouts and a walk, but had most of his luck on well fielded balls, which is obnoxious and annoying on this end of the whole thing (hi Chris Young). That fifth inning started off with a walk to Brad Miller after Cole Gillespie flew out, followed by a grit single from Willie Ballgame a few moments later. Endy Chavez came up to the mound and did his whole Endy Chavez thing, plopping a single down and loading the bases with one out. Up walked James Jones.
Jones worked himself into a 2-2 count and then whacked a balls straight up the middle that could have rolled into the outfield to score two. Instead, Archer stabbed at the ball just as it rolled under him, stopping it dead in its tracks. Brad, apparently thinking the ball was in the Trop's outfield grass, calmly jogged home as Archer threw him out for the force. Two outs. Cano them came to the plate, and the ones and zeros making up Michael Barr's Robinson Cano dinger post began to grow sentient, awoken from their digital slumber. The singularity had begun.
Cano looked at three balls, all well off the plate. Archer didn't want to blow it. Then, a called strike right over the plate in a 3-0 count.
I get it, a walk scores a run. I totally get that. But if anyone on this team has earned the right to swing in a 3-0 count with the bases loaded and two outs, it's...well, not anyone besides Robinson Cano. So he's the best bet. It didn't matter, though, as Archer's next pitch was pretty much the same thing, and it died on the warning track in Matt Joyce's glove. Justin Smoak watched from the dugout and turned to face Dustin Ackley, saying "See? Hitting baseballs is really, really hard!" As Ackley shook his head in agreement, all the Robinson-Cano-As-Role-Model articles awoke themselves, and you had all better start thinking positive things about the rest of the season because we are screwed otherwise.
Felix came back out in the sixth and seventh and started to grow a little fatigued. By pitch 100, he was throwing a whole bunch of offspeed pitches, aiming for strikeouts over anything. In the bottom of the seventh, Zobrist led off with a single and eventually made his way to third. It looked like Felix was about to lose the game in which he struck out more batters than he had ever struck out before. But then, this happened:
Still, Lloyd pulled Felix afterward and went to Medina, who had a clean eighth before sending it to the ninth. The Rays sent closer Grant Balfour to the mound, who quickly got two strikeouts from Ackley and Cole Gillespie to ostensibly send the game into extra innings. It had all the makings of a disaster: no offense, worst ballpark in the bigs, three...maybe four hours of total playing time, and Brad Miller at the dish with an out left. But then something different happened.
Miller ripped an 80 mph curve directly over the raised glove of James Loney, and the ball slowly rolled all the way to the base of the right field wall. At this moment, all the old "Crazy Legs" tweets and articles from last season joined the bummer articles in sentience, sending just enough juice to get Miller to third safely. Up walked Willie Bloomquist. Who also walked to first.
Then, Endy Chavez. Chavez hit his third pitch into centerfield, scoring Miller and giving the M's their first run of the game. James Jones came to the plate a moment later and also hit his third pitch, making it all the way to third himself. Two triples, 3-0 Mariners. Cano walked, and Seager ripped a double that got him to third on a Damn It, Astros level fielding job from the Rays. 5-0 Mariners. Dominic Leone and Charlie Furbush got the final three outs and the Mariners won the ballgame.
Look, I don't know. Whatever. It was simultaneously enraging and exciting. Frustrating and emancipatory. It had all the makings of a game we will still be talking about in a couple of months, and it very well could have ended up violently in the other direction. All I know is that there is a lot of capital 'w' Weird surrounding this team, and at the very least, that's better than this old thing again.