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John McGrath: Even the major greats like King Felix can have a minor nemesis

Moments after a 4-3 Mariners victory that kept his record perfect and left him with a career milestone suggesting he's among the best pitchers under the age of 30 in baseball history, you'd assume Felix Hernandez to be all smiles Sunday.

Uh, not quite.

Although cooperative while taking post-game questions from reporters, King Felix seemed a bit, well, testy might too strong a word, but it's in the ballpark — unlike two pitches Oakland A's shortstop Marcus Semien hit for home runs off Hernandez.

Disinclined to revel in a 6-0 record, 1.85 ERA and the six strikeouts that pushed his career mark past 2,000, Hernandez appeared more miffed about the line-drive shots he allowed than the exclusive strikeout club he joined.

"After he gave up the home runs, you could see his demeanor change," said A's catcher Stephen Vogt, a Tumwater resident who is familiar with Hernandez’s royal status in the region. "He began bearing down. That's what good, competitive pitchers do. When they get mad, they get better."

While Lloyd McClendon marveled at the ferocity with which Hernandez competed on an afternoon he didn't have his ace fastball, the Mariners manager acknowledged Semien's homers were hit on "two pitches that weren't too good, and Felix will tell you that."

Said Hernandez: "It happens. It's baseball,"

A terse but accurate analysis of how a 24-year old infielder, who'd hit 11 major league homers before Sunday, went 3 for 3 against one of the most accomplished pitchers on the planet.

It happens. It's baseball.

Bob Uecker, who converted famously modest statistics assembled over his six-season career — he retired with a .200 batting average — into a more lucrative career as broadcaster and entertainer, got the better of the great Sandy Koufax in 1965.

"I hit Sandy pretty good," Uecker once said. "One of my 14 homers was off him. Thank the Lord I didn't destroy the boy's confidence."

Gordy Coleman never was named to an All-Star team, but the Cincinnati Reds first baseman pretty much owned Hall of Famer Warren Spahn. In 31 at-bats against the pitcher who retired with 363 victories — no lefty has won more — Coleman had 16 hits, with three homers.

A few years before his death in 1994, Coleman recalled Spahn encountering him on a ballpark runway from the clubhouses to the field.

"Don't you realize," Spahn said, "I'm the world's greatest left-hander?"

McClendon can relate. A .244 career hitter for three different teams, he went 12 for 37, with 11 walks, against another Hall of Fame lefty, Tom Glavine.

It happens. It's baseball.

Odds are long that Marcus Semien will enjoy another three-hit, two-homer game against Hernandez, but then, the odds were long that journeyman infielder Tommy Hutton, a .248 career hitter, would go 7 for 10 against Tom Seaver one season and generally remain a conundrum Seaver never could solve.

"I had a lot of trouble getting Tommy Hutton out," Seaver recalled in a 2012 interview. "A lot of times you look at the hitter and you can see, well, I can get him here, I can get him there, I can get him in that spot. I never figured him out."

That Seaver got elected into the Hall of Fame despite an inability to figure out Tom Hutton was not a fact capable of mollifying King Felix, a perfectionist who hadn't surrendered two homers in the same game to a batter since Ian Kinsler did it in 2011.

"From afar, when I was on the other side, I knew he was good," McClendon said of Hernandez. "But I didn't know he was this great of a competitor and an even better teammate. The accolades keep coming for this guy. He's a delight to watch every fifth day.

"We're all blessed."

We're blessed, and yet it's possible Hernandez could be cursed by Semien, a Cal product from the Bay Area who has been watching King Felix on television for years.

If that turns out to be the case, Hernandez could do worse than emulate Spahn. After a game that found Gordy Coleman tormenting the world's greatest left-hander yet again, Spahn sent an autographed bat over to the Reds' dugout.

He signed it: "To my hero."

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