He had a presence. A swagger.
To know how he was pitching, you didn’t need to look at a radar gun or statistics or even the scoreboard.
He told you.
In the easy playfulness with which he toyed with batters. In the way he walked off the mound at the end of an inning. In the fire he never suppressed.
Watching him pitch was a feeling. A feeling of seeing greatness, yes, but also of witnessing joy, passion, drive, a force majeure. It felt like dusk on a sultry summer night with your first love, full of expectations and the dream of what could be.
He started as a promise. Young, full of potential, bloated with youthful boast. He grew up, he matured, he became The King.
We fell in love. We embraced him, and he embraced us back. He could have left, but he stayed. He was one of us. He wore our uniform. He was ours and no one else could have him.
But he wasn’t totally ours. He had a side we never saw. To us he was Felix the Mariner. To himself and to the world, he was also Felix the Venezuelan, who carried around that pride of place in his home.
Last night he made his second start for his country of Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.
Last night he had a presence. A swagger. We didn’t need to look at radar guns or statistics or the scoreboard. He toyed with batters. He was playful. He breathed fire.
We’ve worried about his velocity, his command, and his age.
The King still commands his throne.
Last night may have been his most beautiful performance.
We love Felix Hernandez and our hearts were probably a little more (a lot more) in his corner, but let’s also celebrate Drew Smyly’s amazing start. He struck out eight in four and two-thirds innings, six of them in a row to end his outing when he reached the pitch limit. He looked fantastic. If this is how the pitchers look when big games are on the line, the Mariners are staring down the post season.
Pool F is the only pool with anything going on. Everyone else has either qualified for the semi-finals or been eliminated. Here are some things that happened last night:
Pool F Game 2: United States 4, Venezuela 2
The starting pitchers were incredible for both teams. The only run Smyly gave up was unearned. Hernandez got into a bases-loaded jam in the third inning, but induced a double play ground ball from Adam Jones to end the threat. Team Venezuela’s weak spot is pitching. Hernandez watched once again as his bullpen gave away his lead. Adam Jones hit a solo home run to tie the game in the eighth inning, followed later in the inning by Eric Hosmer’s two run home run to give the United States the lead, and ultimately the game.
Mariners in the WBC:
Drew Smyly (United States): 4.2 innings pitched, 3 hits, 1 run (unearned), 8 strikeouts, throwing error because throwing not on a mound is hard. The last pitch he threw was a 94.4 mph fastball. His fastball was consistently around 92, mixed in with a cutter and a curveball.
Felix Hernandez (Venezuela): 5 innings pitched, 3 hits, 0 runs, 3 strikeouts, velocity topped out at 93.6 in the first inning, it was more consistently at around 90. The changeup looked great, but was firmly in 87 mph range. He gave us a fright in the first inning when he looked like he rolled an ankle, but he walked it off and we all let out a giant sigh of relief.
All times are PDT, all games are broadcast on MLB Network and MLB.tv.
Pool F Game 3: Venezuela vs. Dominican Republic, 7:00 PM
Pool F: Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, United States, Venezuela. Games take place in San Diego, CA at Petco Park March 14-19th.
Venezuela: This is a good baseball team. It is fun to look at their roster in the same way it is fun to look at the Dominican Republic’s roster. Lots of good Major League players, and thinking about a team with all these good players is exciting. Our very own Felix Hernandez will be the ace for his home country. Former Mariner Omar Vizquel (taking over for another former Mariner, Luis Sojo) is managing the team. The question for Venezuela is how well their pitching will hold up.
United States: Ah, the team that makes you wonder how good they would be if their country and players only cared about the WBC. This is a bit unfair because the players who are playing for Team USA are gushing and excited for the experience. The United States has never made it to the finals of the WBC, and while they certainly have the talent to advance, other countries have more oomph. The roster is made entirely of Major and Minor League players, including the Mariner’s own Drew Smyly, who will be making an appearance.
Dominican Republic: With three current Mariners (Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Jean Segura) and two former Mariners (Adrian Beltre, Fernando Rodney) representing the Dominican Republic, they are obviously favorites to win it all. The Dominican roster would be a stellar team in MLB, so they should be enjoyable to watch.
On Deck for Tomorrow:
Pool F Game 4: United States vs. Puerto Rico, 7:00 PM