Today the Mariners faced an absolutely dominant pitcher in Blake Snell, who tied an AL record with seven straight strikeouts to open the game. They were only able to scrape two hits off the lefty over six innings, one of which was an infield single beat out by Dee Gordon doing Dee Gordon things. Snell recorded a career-high 12 strikeouts against the Mariners, who struggled to even put the ball in play against him, let alone make hard contact off his well-spotted 97 mph fastball.
The Mariners won anyway.
In doing so, they made a winner of Félix Hernández, someone who’d seen his teammates let him down time and time again, failing to score with their ace on the mound. “Great Job/We’re Sorry” was the remix of Félix’s early years in Seattle. Now, he’s finally getting the offensive support he was lacking over his first few seasons, but he’s getting it while driving a car that’s driven over a lot of hard road in his major league career. Any long-term relationship carries a fair amount of baggage; familiarity breeds, if not contempt, at least pointed criticism.
But the 2018 Mariners are big enough that they can absorb this baggage. Félix did his part; he came out in the first inning—an inning that has plagued him—throwing well-located pitches and mixing his pitches rather than leaning too heavily on any one (including the dreadful sinker). He only needed 10 pitches to get through the first, with an assist from a fine running catch made by Mitch Haniger on a deep flyout towards the gap. The second inning wouldn’t go quite as smoothly, as he started off by hitting Matt Duffy with a curveball with no bite, and then threw Daniel Robertson a changeup that didn’t change for a base hit. With two on and no out, Félix battled back to get two strikeouts and a harmless popout off the bat of Carlos Gomez, who broke his bat over his knee in frustration.
Félix wasn’t able to wiggle out of trouble in the fourth, surrendering a two-out single through a hole in the left side of the infield to Daniel Robertson, again, and then an RBI double off the bat of Brad “Left Eye” Miller. However, that would be the only run surrendered by Félix all day, despite having to wiggle out of trouble in the fifth, when he hit C.J. Cron to load the bases with just one out before coming back to strike out Joey Wendle on an excellent fading curve, and then got Matt Duffy to tap one right back into his glove to end the inning. Bobbing and weaving but never breaking, Félix was able to get all the way through the eighth inning for the first time this season—in fact, the first time since August of 2016. He was pretty, pretty pumped up:
Félix is out here grinding. He's through seven innings today with seven punchouts.— Mariners (@Mariners) June 3, 2018
Mitch Haniger heads to the plate to get things going for the Mariners.
Rays 1️⃣, Mariners 0️⃣ pic.twitter.com/tWimZQNdCH
Meanwhile, the Mariners did some damage to Snell’s pitch count (hey, strikeouts take up a fair amount of pitching), and eventually he was lifted in the seventh. The Mariners couldn’t get anything going against Chaz Roe in the seventh, and with flamethrowing José Alvarado up in the eighth, an unpleasant odor of “2012 Félix start” began to permeate Safeco.
In 2012, Ryon Healy was a sophomore at the University of Oregon. He walked about as much then as he does now—5%. Today, Ryon Healy worked a rare walk to put the leadoff man on base, where he was quickly pitch-ran for by speedy Andrew Romine. The Mariners then small-balled their way into a run when Guillermo laid down a perfect bunt that the lead-footed Alvarado had trouble fielding, not getting a great grip on the transfer and Brad Miller—who is a first baseman now! The times, they change—couldn’t snag the throw. With runners on the corners, Denard Span picked an excellent tie to get his first RBI as a Mariner, jumping on Alvarado’s first pitch and poking it into right field to tie the game. Dee Gordon then parachuted a little bloop into left field and the Mariners had a 2-1 lead, and as we’ve seen over and over again, that’s all these 2018 Mariners need.
After the game, a reporter asked Félix what it means to him to be on a first-place team. Félix paused, just briefly, and smiled before giving the rote answer of “lot of season left/just have to keep grinding/keep winning games/etc.” But in that pause, that little smile said so much. It feels f*&$%ing great, it said. It’s about time, it said.
For us, too, Félix. For us too.