At times, one of the more disturbing parts about baseball is the emptiness of it all.
Middle innings. One out. A 1-1 count to a particularly uninteresting hitter. The score is already getting a bit out of hand. It’s moments like this where the game of baseball can lash out and steer your brain down the darkest of holes in the absence of intrigue.
Felix Hernandez spins in a curveball for strike one against Alcides Escobar. It is the sixth inning and the Seattle Mariners are losing to the Kansas City Royals, 6-2. The pitch was hung a bit, but he gets away with it; Escobar and his 42 wRC+ are a bit more forgiving than most. Carlos Ruiz returns the ball to Felix, who goes about his routine pre-pitch process.
I’m thinking about the King’s Court. The yellow-clad devotees, forever a believer in the Felix of yesteryears and the Felix of tomorrow, don’t make a peep when Hernandez scoots a curveball past Escobar. They don’t make much noise when Escobar falls behind 0-2, either. The typically clearly audible chants of “K! K! K! K! K! K!” are faintly strewn about the soft, abstract background noise. Whit Merrifield’s solo home run to lead the game off was a pin. Mike Moustakas’ two-run shot in the fourth was a tack. Salvador Perez’s two-run double an inning later was a dagger. Maybe it was just the score. Maybe when Felix takes the mound the next time, when the score is back to 0-0, they’ll come roaring back to life. Maybe.
It is the sixth inning. Following a Danny Valencia walk, Robinson Cano steps to the plate and works the count to 1-2. Following a scoreless final inning from Felix, the Mariners continue to trail 6-2. I’m running the Lookout Landing Twitter account and thoughts and feelings regarding Felix Hernandez are flowing in like mad. One tweet, however, ponders the longevity of Felix as a marketing focus.
I’m back on the King’s Court. Could we be watching the final season of The King’s Court? I remember when it was first formed: the ultimate testament to Felix’s greatness. Perhaps I never considered the possibility of the King’s Court ending. Perhaps I never considered the possibility of King Felix ending. Other cheering sections have popped up and disappeared overnight (looking at you, YUniverse). Is there an end coming? Do they celebrate the end? Would it be awkward to indirectly acknowledge that a player is no longer worth the marketing attention anymore? Would it be awkward to brush it under the rug? It’s all I’m thinking about as Robinson Cano strikes out on a foul tip. The questions persist as Seager grounds out and Gamel whiffs at strike three.
It is the seventh inning. Boog Powell grounds a ball to Eric Hosmer. It is a very easy double play ball until Hosmer sends the ball flying into the back of Ruiz and soaring into left field. Ruiz makes it to third base, Powell to second. The questions fade. The Mariners might make it all the way back into this game. The top of the lineup is up. All is well. When Jean Segura singles home Ruiz and sends Powell to third, all is...so...very...well.
Valencia steps up and hammers a pitch to the right side. Merrifield makes a clean play on it and turns a bullet into a double play, firing the ball to Escobar, who fires the ball to Hosmer. The inning is over. We are grounded. Gravity delivers a painful reminder.
I’m thinking about seeing Felix pitch in Safeco last summer, my first time ever seeing him pitch on the corner of Edgar and Dave. When the announcement was made and he walked in from the bullpen and the crowd roared in a way I’ve never heard a Safeco crowd roar before, I felt it. I felt all of it. I felt a decade’s worth of dominance and I felt the Cy Young Award and I felt Felix tearing up when the whole staff cheered for him outside of the elevator when the extension was announced and I felt the perfect game and I felt every single pitch his right arm ever threw. I felt a bond between a man and a city, and the relentlessness of hope. I’ve seen Felix pitch in Petco Park. I’ve seen Felix pitch in Angels Stadium. I’ve seen Felix pitch in The Coliseum. Seeing Felix pitch in Safeco was like all of those other times plus an infinity.
Yovani Gallardo nearly pitches three perfect innings, but Ben Gamel is unable to hold onto the ball as he collides into the wall with two outs in the ninth inning. Jorge Bonifacio races to third. He scores on a wild pitch very soon after. It is now 7-3. The Mariners are not going to win this game.
I can’t help but look at Felix’s FanGraphs page. Everything is wrong. His ERA is 5.04. His FIP is 5.52. His xFIP is 3.95, but climbing quickly. The HR/9 was already ugly and it managed to get uglier. It’s all falling apart now. Players I’m not sure actually exist have a higher fWAR than him. There are things you can point to for optimism’s sake, but the vast majority of the page is screaming.
Jean Segura legs out an infield single with two outs in the ninth inning.
He’ll be fine. He’ll come back next start and be fine. He is the King, after all. He is our King. He will reign again. Even if he’s just a decent No. 3 starter, he’ll be fine.
Danny Valencia sends a hard line drive to left field.
Please be fine, Felix.
Alex Gordon slides and makes the catch. The game is over.
Please be fine.
The Mariners file into the clubhouse.