This recap should have been about Felix Hernandez. It should have been about his continued ability to defy what appears, almost irrefutably at this point, the beginning of his decline. It could have been about how he fights seemingly himself and the opposition equally, as much at war with his no longer elite right arm as he is the batters facing him. It was going to be a serious examination of what Felix is, and where the Mariners go from here. I've been putting it off, and it was time.
But the Mariners, the Seattle Damn Mariners. The hapless, replacement level, dregs of baseball that Felix has almost single handedly carried through all this miserable hell, won't let him be the story. The MARINERS, OUR team, would not let him fall. They rallied, down 2-0. They came back from 8-4 (!). The team is producing new heroes daily, and my ability to process on the fly is being challenged. Baseball is a game whose storylines are created glacially, and what these Mariners are doing is trying to shake off a burden stuffed full and heavy over fifteen years in a month and a half.
The Mariners have swept the A's, they are in first place, they have won fourteen of their past nineteen games. They are the hottest damn team in the American League, and they are doing it with contributions up and down the entire roster. They are inviting us to dream, to get ahead of ourselves, and to let go of the past. It's foolish, it's too early for it, there's far, far too much of this story still untold. But.... It's irresistible.
A simple glance at velocity readings and peripherals tells you that Felix doesn't have the thing he possessed seemingly the entirety of 2009-2014 anymore. But even Act III Felix Hernandez is almost certainly an above average to very good starting pitcher. But, today was one of those bad days. Felix's stuff had movement that passeth understanding, even his own. He threw only fifty strikes in eighty-one pitches, and started out far too many hitters 1-0, 2-0. Marcus Semien hit a solo home run, and a fielder's choice made it 2-0 in the fourth.
Sean Manaea was going Rich Hill on the Mariners, baffling them with a collection of first pitch strikes and curveballs from a variety of arm angles. This game was starting to feel very familiar.
"The planet'll be here and we'll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake. An evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet'll shake us off like a bad case of fleas."
Nelson Cruz is the instrument of Mother Earth.
It's a testament to Felix, and the unquantifiable but very real ability he possesses to "compete", that despite having no command and/or velocity in the end what truly undid him was his defense. After back to back singles Billy Burns bunted to Felix. He turned to check third, as he's done countless times, but Billy Burns is only in the major leagues because he's very fast, and the A's had loaded the bases with no one out.
Then, more disaster.
More hits, more disaster, and Felix was gone. His line:
4 IP, 9 H, 8 R, 1 K, 0 BB
Felix is missing command AND velocity from his peak. I don't expect him to get both back, not at this point. But the return of one would still make him a very, very good pitcher, and go far to make me feeling less sad. Not today.
The only thing more surprising than how quickly the Mariners' offense rebounded from blowing a lead and creating a four run deficit was how unsurprised I was. Mariner offenses this decade have, in case you've forgotten, been A Thing. Not A Thing like Steph Curry, Julien Baker in a concrete vault, or blasting your legs through the final 200 yards of a marathon. Now they've been A Thing like Swine Flu, the packaging children's toys comes in, or repeated viewing of Ecks Vs. Sever.
But this is not Ecks Vs. Sever, this is Face/Off, and the Mariners are intent on tearing yours off with the speed with which they can rally. It began when Dae-Ho Lee clocked a solo home run to center, and continued when Nori Aoki hit a sac fly. In the seventh, after striking out his first three times on the day Kyle Seager parachuted a ball into left to make it 8-7. Then, with John Axford, a right-hander, on the hill, Scott Servais stayed with Dae-Ho Lee.
LET'S DO THE ALT TRACK
To get a sense of where we are with this team let's just look at this text conversation with my neighbor, a Mariner fan as familiar with this team's history as I am:
The Mariners are making us believe. In one three week stretch they have begun to repair the damage done over a decade and a half of failure. It's fragile yes, the stitches are fresh, and could easily tear. But this is a belief that emanates from the team itself:
Cruz on what was said in the dugout. pic.twitter.com/ZI5e1esAfy— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) May 4, 2016
Steve Cishek, who almost a year ago lost his closer role in Miami, closed it out. He is a perfect eight for eight in save opportunities. The team rode timely hitting, fantastic relief from Mike Montgomery, Joel Peralta, and Steve Cishek and they won, 9-8. The season is only a shade over 15% complete. There is so far to go. But, there is no undoing what's been done. Tomorrow Baseball Prospectus will have the Mariners' playoff odds close to 70%. The Astros disastrous start, the rest of division's mediocre beginning, it's all giving the Mariners the opportunity many of us have waited our whole lives to see.
Felix said that Cruz walked up to him after the 5th and said, "We are going to win this game." Hernandez replied: "I believe in you guys."— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) May 4, 2016
Felix Hernandez carried this team for a decade. For the first time, he appears to need them to carry him, and also for the first time, they appear capable of doing so.