The man who owns the 2010 American League Cy Young Award is hungry for another, and his pitching coach isn’t about to put it past Felix Hernandez.
“It sounds funny to say, because I’m his coach,” Carl Willis said, “but I learn from Felix. I don’t know anybody else who can approach a hitter with as many options – he can make his ball move any way he wants it.”
In the Mariners’ 33rd game of the season, Felix did his thing for nine innings, then the offense pushed across a walk-off run in Seattle’s half of the inning to beat the Chicago White Sox, 3-2.
Shortstop Brendan Ryan, who began the night batting .176, singled up the middle with two outs to score pinch-runner Adam Kennedy with the game-winner – then talked about Hernandez.
“Felix would have pitched 14-15 rounds if (Eric) Wedge would have let him,” Ryan said. “I was trying to be aggressive in that last at-bat, and when I got a pitch over the plate this time, I didn’t foul it back.”
The victory came in front of the Mariners second-largest crowd of the season, 31,912, and it was a gathering that got into the game early and grew louder as it went on.
“The crowd was awesome!” Felix said. “I like it when a lot of people come to the park. It got loud out there.”
After Hernandez finished off the top of the ninth emphatically, striking out Alex Rios on his 109th pitch, the Mariners had to face one of their own – former Seattle left-hander Matt Thornton, who had worked a scoreless eighth inning.
Jack Cust, batting .196 at the time, lobbed a single to the opposite field with one out. Jack Wilson, batting .240, singled Cust to second base, and Wedge sent in Rodriguez as a pinch-runner.
Michael Saunders flied out, deep enough to get L-Rod to third base.
During Saunders’ at-bat, Ryan walked from the on-deck circle to the dugout rail, and asked switch-hitter Justin Smoak what he was about to see in his first career at-bat against Thornton.
“I’d only seen this guy on TV,” Ryan said. “I specifically remember him blowing fastballs by everybody.
“I wanted to make sure I was on the same page with my plan and with what Smoak saw. I wanted to know how much he felt like that ball cut in on him so I could kind of set my eyes to where I want that slot to be for the pitch I want.”
“He just said that ball’s definitely cutting,” Ryan said.
Thornton threw a cut fastball, Ryan was ready and his single sent that crowd home happy.
It didn’t always appear that would be the case.
Good as Felix was, the White Sox led in the game 1-0 after five innings – though the run wasn’t really his fault.
After Juan Pierre singled to open the fourth inning, the White Sox laid down a sacrifice bunt, but when Miguel Olivo fielded the ball and looked to first base, no one was covering.
Second baseman Jack Wilson had blown the coverage, so the bunt went down as a hit, and there were two on with no one out.
Two fly balls later, Pierre scored. If the bunt play is made, the Sox don’t score.
When Ichiro Suzuki, whose bobblehead was handed out to 25,000 fans, led off the sixth inning with a walk, the Mariners had Chone Figgins bunt him to second.
Milton Bradley doubled him home for the tie, and with two outs Smoak doubled Bradley home for a 2-1 lead.
But on the second pitch of the seventh inning, Felix hung a slider and Carlos Quentin hammered it into the left field seats for his seventh home run and a 2-2 tie.
“Bad pitch,” Hernandez acknowledged. But he got out of the inning with the game tied.