It’s been tough watching Felix Hernandez the past two years.
See, us longtime Mariner fans have seen the King evolve from teenage phenom to inconsistent starter, to ace, to the Best Pitcher in Baseball, and back down to just another injury-plagued member of the rotation.
The numbers don’t paint a pretty picture: since 2014, Felix’s numbers have been free-fallin’ faster than Tom Petty. His ERA has dropped from 2.14 to 3.53 to 3.82 to 4.28 this season. His FIP has nosedived even more precipitously. He crossed the rubicon into his thirties, a dangerous age range for any pitcher.
But today, at the Ballpark in Arlington, we got a glimpse of vintage Felix.
For fifty-three pitches, Felix Hernandez reclaimed his throne and Seattle cheered him on every step of the way. In 3.2 innings of work, Hernandez struck out three, allowed just three hits, and didn’t walk a single batter. No, it wasn’t a full outing, but his breaking balls were sharp and his command solid. This is the pitcher we’ve been hoping to see again and a pitcher who could prove pivotal in the Mariners’ last-gasp wild card chase.
Of course, the story of tonight wasn’t just about Felix, but also about the big boppers in the M’s lineup. Nelson Cruz decided today would be a great day to hit the stuffing out of the ball, going 4-4 with a homer and a pair of doubles.
Not to be outdone, Yonder Alonso went 3-3, including a bases-loaded double that plated three and broke the door open in the fifth inning. And, finally, Walker Texas Ranger Killer Kyle Seager was 2-4 with a two-run dinger to give the Mariners an early lead in the second inning.
With offense like that, it’s okay that the rest of the lineup finished just 2-for-27 in the game, especially since they managed to walk nine times. And credit is also due to the long relief efforts of Andrew Albers, who threw 84 pitches in five innings to close the game out.
The next and most obvious question, of course, is: So what? After Byron Buxton’s walkoff homer today for the Twins, the Mariners remain 3.5 games out of the second wild card spot. To have any chance at the postseason, this team will need to put on ... well, a 2017 Cleveland-esque run. The margin for error is essentially zero. Things still aren’t looking good for this year.
So let’s take what we can get. Felix Hernandez, King Felix, looked pretty dang good out there tonight. Maybe he can keep it up for a full start next time around. Maybe, after three consecutive blowout victories over a Texas-based team, the M’s can notch three more blowout victories over a different Texas-based team over the weekend. This team needed these wins, and it got them.
Right now, in Mariners Land, all is good. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to embrace that while I can.