For a long time, longer than all of us probably care to remember, the Seattle Mariners have been masters of losing. They have baptized fans in the waters of the River Wallowing, made us drink from the cup of longing and misery, and every time we thought we'd learned our final lesson, they'd found another to teach. The records kept of defeats stretch infinitely back in our minds past the point of actual time. The timelessness we've felt has simply been that Mariners Baseball meant failure and an endless one. Yet, through all that pain, through summer breezes made musical by another losing call on the radio and attention cast elsewhere by July and forgetting about baseball being as much a ritual as remembering it ever existed, there has been Felix Hernandez.
Our King, The King, as Baseball came to know him countless seasons ago, has reigned during those dark years, too. He, like the sorrow of October, has remained. And tonight, in this most unusual of seasons, his mark upon the franchise was made permanent, not by memory, but by etched stone. On May 9th, 2016, Felix Hernandez won his 146th game, all as a member of the Seattle Mariners. It is the new mark of the winningest pitcher in the franchise's history, surpassing the 145 wins accumulated by Jamie Moyer in an M's uniform. Say what you will about Pitcher Wins and their illogical importance and use, but do not say that Felix is undeserving of another franchise record.
You see, for many of those losses of the past, Felix stood by, like us. He watched from the dugout, or, seemingly more common, he was on the mound. While tossing his dazzling magic and fooling opposing players, he'd simply walk to the dugout after the third out of the inning, throw on his warm-up jacket, and watch his teammates replicate the opposing batters. On so many nights the bats would fail him as he kept his fellow Mariners in the game. He never left, though. He was and is ours, and you never had him.
It was a strange game in the context of the current season. Thanks to a Rangers loss, the Mariners now find themselves 1.5 games ahead in first place in the AL West. First place. It's a phrase that hasn't grazed the pages of this website more than a handful of times since its inception. Yet, and despite, the current run of form, Felix looked to have found himself in a game not unlike countless others of seasons past.
Felix finished the sixth inning in order thanks to Chris Iannetta throwing an absolute laser beam to Ketel Marte covering second base on a back door pick off of Brandon Guyer.
And another view
It was the sort of kick in the pants the game needed, knotted at 2-2 with the Mariners failing to hit any of their many runners across in the previous five frames. Both runs, up to this point in the sixth were scored by sacrifice fly and a wild pitch. The previous innings had seen the Mariners squander runners on second and third with no outs in the first, a lead-off single by Kyle Seager in the second, and only score a run a piece in the third and fifth with two runners on and no outs. It was the sort of night where the Mariners of the past would have had no trouble finding a neat and tidy way to lose a contest. Couple the sinking feeling of poor production with RISP and the recent worrisome trends of Felix's starts, and a slow burn began to come alive.
Felix, for his part, had a pretty clean outing despite allowing two solo home runs throughout his seven innings. A Corey Dickerson shot to lead off the fourth tied the game at 1-1, and an Evan Longoria two-out solo bomb in the 5th actually put the Rays ahead in the fifth. Once again, Felix's fastball command looked spotty, laboring the entire game and having trouble with getting too tight to righties. The curve, for what it's worth, looked to be his most in-command offering of the evening. That being said, The King only walked two and struck out four while spreading out his four hits. As well, his velocity seemed to return a bit tonight:
Felix averaged 91.5 FB tonight, hit 93 once, 92.7 once. Even induced two whiffs, first two of the year on FB.— Jason A. Churchill (@ProspectInsider) May 10, 2016
When he walked to the dugout after his frame in the sixth, you wondered if he'd have to wait for another night to rightfully put his name in place as the winningest pitcher in Mariner history. In case you missed them though, he managed to remind us of the reasons why parting with Logan Morrison and Brad Miller maybe were compelling enough.
Remember that? Or this?
Jose Rivera (@whoisjoserivera) May 10, 2016
Well, besides the homecoming of the former Mariners, something else was cooking on the stove tonight. Ketel Marte had himself quite the evening, going 4-5 with two doubles, a single, and a home run. He was involved in all five runs plated tonight, scoring three times himself, and ensuring that Felix walked off the mound in the seventh as the winning pitcher of record.
After tearing the cover off the ball from the right side of the plate, Ketel, already 3-3 on the night when he walked to the plate in the bottom of the sixth, stepped into the left handed batter's box with a righty on the mound in the form of Steve Geltz. Before him, Leonys Martin had worked a walked and stole second, Norichicka Aoki then followed suit with a walk of his own. This called for a pitching change, and Steve Geltz left a first-pitch fastball center cut for the 22 year-old shortstop. He did not miss.
Four-hundred feet and a tunnel ride later, the Mariners were up 5-2 in the bottom of the sixth. Thanks to a scoreless final frame from Felix in the seventh, Joel Peralta, and Steve Cishek, that's how the game would end, too.
Ketel wouldn't hit the triple in his final at bat that would have meant the cycle, but was given a standing ovation for his efforts tonight anyway. Fifteen-thousand folks attended tonight's contest and the buzz certainly felt real. The Rays are not a bad team, but the Mariners are certainly better. There's a tangible, different feeling about all of this. Cishek was throwing untouchable scoobers to end the game, striking out his final two batters. Kyle Seager extended his hitting streak to ten games. We have a young shortstop who is a menace on both sides of the ball. We have Felix, not done. Not yet.
It's amazing to think about, really. What this winning baseball has done for our mentality. Look around at this town, these fans. Look how quickly winning has transformed us from a sarcastic bunch of bottom-dwellers to die-hards who scream along with every pitch. This team, these players, they've final given us something to buy into. They're giving back to their King, as well.