We were all frighted for what was to come in June for the Mariners. But after splitting a series against the Astros, winning two series against the Rays, and sweeping the Angels, facing the Red Sox no longer felt like Herculean task.
And it could have ended way worse than it did.
Félix Hernández, after his shortest outing of the season last Saturday against the Rays, took the mound against the Red Sox and their starter, David Price. The Venezuelan was looking to redeem himself. What better place to do so than at Safeco Field, in his kingdom and among his subjects?
And redeem himself he did. Despite the loss, Félix came prepared. He may not be the king he was before, but blue blood runs true within the right-hander, and he showed it. He started the game with an 89mph sinker well-located in the outside corner for a called strike to Mookie Betts, currently one of the best hitters in the league. Félix used six pitches to get Betts to flyout to Denard Span in left field and then needed only three pitches to force Andrew Benintendi to ground out. After allowing J.D. Martinez to single on five pitches, Félix quickly ended the frame by getting Mitch “Lesser-of-two-Mitches” Moreland to flyout.
David Price mirrored Hernández’s performance in the bottom of the inning. Price started off the inning by getting Dee Gordon to lineout and then striking out a very frustrated Jean Segura. Mitch Haniger, was able to hit a cutter inside off the pine tar of his bat, but with enough power to loop over the infield and drop in the grass for a single, but a monster flyball by Nelson Cruz brought an end to the frame.
The top of the second, despite being Félix’s worst frame, began as a complete success for the King. His his changeup was fooling batters, and he was locating his sinker like the Félix of old. He began the inning with this beauty.
After striking out Xander Bogaerts to begin the frame, Rafael Devers hit a sharp line drive to right field that Haniger just could not play. Soon after, with Eduardo Núñez in the box, Devers stole second on a Zunino throw that bounced and couldn’t makes its way into Dee’s glove to apply the tag. Félix took this as an opportunity to better apply his changeup, using it to end Núñez’s at bat with a strikeout. Unfortunately, a low changeup to Jackie Bradley Jr. was cracked for a hit that flew its way over Ryon Healy at first base and into right field, scoring Devers. Luckily, Christian Vázquez scribbled a grounder to Dee Gordon, who was playing rather deep at second. He caught it on a bounce and handed it over to Healy to end the frame, but not before a quick chyron made its way onto the broadcast featuring a tweet by Jen Mueller, stating that the Red Sox were 29-3 when scoring first. Easy to believe, as the bottom of the second was a 1-2-3 frame for Price.
But in the top of the third, things just kept getting better for Félix, as he set off to face the top of the lineup once again. It is a well known fact, proven by data, that pitchers do increasingly worse when facing a lineup the second time around, and worse with each subsequent round. This did not seem to be the case for Hernández. He quickly issued another flyout to Mookie Betts. He was making fools of the top of the Red Sox order, using a full arsenal of pitches and allocating them throughout the bottom of the zone. In five pitches, Benintendi was punched out on a 90mph fastball in the outside corner. Then, in four pitches, Félix struck out J.D. Martinez with a changeup low and inside. Still, in the bottom of the frame, the M’s came up empty. Mike Zunino gave us a two strike fakeout, as he smacked a fastball high and deep, but into the glove of Mookie Betts in right field. Dee Gordon laid down a perfect bunt but caught himself in a rundown after a successful pickoff throw by Price to end the inning.
Félix kept showing some of his best stuff of the season throughout the game. The only player to give Félix a run for his money was Rafael Devers, who scored in the second inning and doubled in the fourth with two outs, one of which was a strikeout to Xander Bogaerts. In the fifth, Hernández allowed a one-out single to Christian Vázquez, but soon after struck out Mookie Betts and forced Andrew Benintendi into a groundout to end the inning.
David Price was as good as Félix throughout the match, as is the way with pitcher’s duels. Then the bottom of the fifth came along and Kyle Seager stepped up to bat. With a 1-2 count, Price threw Seager an outside-cutter, a pitch Kyle would turn into the third hit of the night for the M’s, leading off the inning with a line drive to left field. Then Ryon Healy was able to pencil in a base hit up the middle by belting a fastball at the knees. With Guillermo Heredia batting, Seager took his lead off of second base. Price launched his pitch toward home and Vázquez, the Red Sox catcher, threw to second base in an attempt to throw out Seager. But the throw practically rolled to second base, making it easy for Seager to dash to third and nab it for his first stolen base of the season. Heredia took Price’s next pitch and launched it to left field, scoring Seager on a sacrifice fly. David Price was unfazed. He struck out Denard Span and Mike Zunino to end the inning, the score now tied 1-1.
The top of the sixth saw Félix issuing a leadoff single to J.D. Martinez, but a Mitch Moreland grounder came fell into the hands of Jean Segura for a double play. Then Xander Bogaerts came up to bat. Félix fought. He battled. He got a swinging strike on a slider, a swinging strike on a changeup. He tried to get crafty, throwing a couple of off-speed and breaking pitches for balls and fouls. Until Félix got to his seventh pitch of the a bat; a 90 mph fastball over the plate that Bogaerts launched into the stands in center field at 105mph. It was hard to watch the lead go back to the Red Sox, especially after just having tied. Up next in the inning was Rafael Devers, the batter who gave Félix the most trouble up to this point. Félix got him to groundout in two pitches. Dee Gordon was hit by a pitch to start the bottom of the inning, but a quick grounder from Jean Segura for a double play and a groundout by Mitch Haniger quickly silenced whatever threat the Mariners had placed.
But this was Félix’s game, and he was to remain on the mound in the seventh, already having thrown 93 pitches. He quickly went to work, getting Eduardo Núñez to groundout in two pitches, but later issued a four pitch walk to Jackie Bradley Jr., the first walk of the game. James Pazos and Ryan Cook began to warm up in the bullpen. With JBJ, at first, Christian Vázquez hit an outside curveball that flew over the infield with ease. Two men were now aboard with Mookie Betts, the hottest hitting player, up to bat. I began to worry. This was it. Félix Hernández would be done. The great outing he had in the first six innings was quickly coming to a close with each pitch he threw. But Félix silenced my naysaying. With a changeup low in the zone, He got Betts pulled the ball to Seager who turned a double play that made me clap and shout like a child, joyfully proven wrong.
James Pazos relieved Félix in the eighth inning, and held the Red Sox offense down despite a quick on-field interruption that delayed the game. The gas throwing Joe Kelly came in to relieve David Price in the 8th as well, and he too held the Mariners down.
Up in relief in the ninth was Nick Rumbelow, wearing number 52 in his Mariners debut. With his 93mph fastball and his mid 80s changeup/slider combo, Rumbelow pitched a perfect frame, retiring the bottom of the Red Sox lineup in order.
For their last chance to score, the Mariners would be up against none other than superstar closer, Craig Kimbrel. There he stood, with his crouching stance as he gazed upon his batterymate; Haniger Leading off. But Kimbrel was having difficulty commanding his breaking ball. Four pitches later, Haniger was on board. Kimbrel, still struggling to control his pitches, threw a wild pitch that allowed Haniger to move up into scoring position. The stadium came alive, and Nelson Cruz, was in the box. Kimbrel threw breaking a ball after breaking ball, Cruz laid off most of the pitches, but was fooled by a couple of curveballs, and the count was now full. With a check swing on a low curveball, Cruz was now aboard as well.
“Will they do it? Will they walk off on the Red Sox?” We all asked ourselves as Seager came up to bat, but Seager, ever so eager, was down on three pitches, all fastballs in the zone. Ryon Healy then came into contact with a high fastball, and grounded into a double play to end the ballgame, and the Mariners lost by just one run.
But what mattered most in this game was Felix’s performance. In 10 of his 14 starts this year, Félix had allowed three or more runs. Tonight, he only allowed two runs. Two runs against the highest scoring team in the majors. He struck out six batters. He did this while pitching through seven innings. James Pazos held them down as well, and Nick Rumbelow, in his debut, silenced the Sox. The Mariners may not have won, but these aren’t the “same old Mariners” of before. This wasn’t even the same Félix of last Saturday. These are improved and improving Mariners, who get better and better with each game.
This was a loss, but I’ve never felt a loss instill this much hope. Seeing how Félix was able to work this team of Red Sox, I’m hopeful that tomorrow’s result will be even better than today’s.