SAN DIEGO – For all of the history that Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners were making Sunday as they put away the San Diego Padres, 6-1, there was time for the personal touch.
Like when Felix was at the plate getting ready to hit and his old batterymate, Rob Johnson, was catching – and complaining about the way Hernandez had pitched him.
“Rob said, ‘I thought you were going to throw me a fastball,’ ” Felix said.
“I told him, ‘That was a fastball.’
“Rob said, ‘That was a sinker!’ ” Hernandez said, and laughed.
Johnson would know, having caught Hernandez much of last year when Hernandez won the American League Cy Young Award. And, looking for that fastball, Johnson twice struck out Sunday when Felix threw him some nasty variation.
At that, Johnson represented only two of Felix’s career-high-matching 13 strikeouts in an eight-inning start that produced his fifth win, the Mariners’ fifth in a row, and extended a remarkable stretch of games by the Seattle rotation.
Mariners starting pitchers have now gone at least seven innings – and allowed two runs or fewer – in nine consecutive games.
The last time any big league team did that?
The San Francisco Giants, in 1988.
“This was what we expected,” catcher Miguel Olivo said. “We’ve got an amazing starting rotation. We’ve just been looking for runs to support them, and now we’re getting them.”
Well, not every day, mind you.
In the previous start Hernandez made, for instance, he allowed two runs to the Minnesota Twins and lost, 2-1.
Still, the Mariners are on a roll, and the Padres were left wondering how those guys from Seattle were a fourth-place team in the American League West. During their three-game series sweep, the Mariners outscored the Padres, 14-2.
San Diego didn’t lead for an inning all weekend, and when the Mariners departed, they did so as the third-place team in their division.
“We’re playing good baseball, doing the little things right,” Felix said. “Our rotation is doing a great job. Erik Bedard and Michael Pineda are getting better, and the other two starters (Jason Vargas and Doug Fister) are working hard between starts to keep it going.”
And his 13-strikeout performance?
“I had a good changeup,” he said, smiling. “I threw it and my breaking pitch for outs.”
In the midst of a happy Seattle clubhouse, pitching coach Carl Willis was asked what he’d been doing to help that steamrolling rotation.
“Just watching them,” Willis said.
That’s been more fun of late.
Ahead 1-0 in the second inning when Ichiro Suzuki’s soft ground ball drove in a run, the Mariners pushed out to a 3-0 lead when rookie outfielder Carlos Peguero doubled home Justin Smoak and Olivo.
Hernandez kept posting zeros, striking out three Padres in the second inning, two in the third and two more in the fourth.
“He was real good for a long time in this game,” manager Eric Wedge said. “He had to work a little harder in the last few innings, but he gave us a great effort. And we played one of our better games at the plate. We had better at-bats. We kept the heat on them all day.”
Shortstop Brendan Ryan drove home two more Seattle runs with a seventh-inning double and then, after San Diego scored its only earned run in the series, defensive replacement Franklin Gutierrez singled home the Mariners’ final run in the ninth.
Wedge determined that Hernandez had done his job after eight innings and 114 pitches.
David Pauley pitched a scoreless ninth, and the Mariners caught a flight to Minneapolis.
It was hard to find fault in this one, when the Mariners’ offense had 15 hits and their pitchers allowed the opposition only six. Four Seattle hitters had two hits, and Olivo had three hits and scored three runs.
There was one unhappy hitter – Felix Hernandez.
“I was really looking forward to hitting,” he said after going 0-for-4. “I took the worst swings ever. It was disappointing.”
The numbers he’s paid to put up are all on the pitching side of his job description, and those continue to be impressive.
Hernandez has started 11 games and worked 772/3 innings. Along with a 5-4 record, he has a 3.01 earned-run average, 21 walks and 77 strikeouts.
Felix can’t hit? Try finding a team that wouldn’t let him pitch.
Not long after the Mariners won, the Oakland Athletics lost in 11 innings and dropped into fourth in the AL West. At 22-24, the Mariners are one game behind the Angels and 11/2 behind first-place Texas.
“It’s been outstanding, the way these guys have passed the torch to one another,” Wedge said. “They’re focused, and they’re all trying to do their job. Guys are getting comfortable in the field, in the batter’s box, on the mound.”
By the numbers
Strikeouts by Seattle’s Felix Hernandez on Sunday, matching his career high
Number of times the Padres struck out in the three-game series
Hits for the Mariners on Sunday
Combined hits for the Padres in the three-game series
Losses by the Padres in 17 games against the Mariners at Petco Park
Hernandez’s career record in 20 interleague starts