Felix Hernandez’s push for his first 20-victory season stalled at the wall Saturday night before the Mariners tumbled late in a 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.
The end came in a flash: David Freese led off the ninth inning with a home run to center against Danny Farquhar (1-5) for a walk-off victory.
“I was trying to go in(side) right there,” Farquhar said. “I left it over the plate, and he got to it. It just kind of ran over the plate and caught too much plate. Freese is a good hitter, and he got to it.”
The game, however, turned in the fourth inning.
Hernandez and the Mariners had a 2-1 lead after the King wiggled out of a couple of nasty jams. The Mariners had two runners on base when Jesus Montero sent a drive to deep center field.
Mike Trout retreated to the warning track, timed his jump and reached over the wall to pull the ball back for a magnificent catch.
“I forgot who was the center fielder,” Montero said. “I thought, ‘Oh, that’s going to be gone for sure.’ Then I saw Trout going to the wall, and I was like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on right here?’ Then I just walked to the dugout.”
Instead of a three-run homer, it was just an out. Instead of a 5-1 lead for Hernandez, it remained a one-run lead. Trout’s catch stunned everyone; the runners didn’t even advance.
“Honestly, I didn’t think I could catch it,” Trout said. “Once I got up to the wall and then I looked back up at it, I said, ‘Man, I've got a chance to catch this ball.’ ”
L.A. starter Andrew Heaney then retired the next two hitters, which permitted the Angels to pull even when C.J. Cron crushed a 1-1 sinker from Hernandez for a leadoff homer in the sixth inning.
“That was a sinker that stayed in the middle of the plate,” Hernandez said. “It was a mistake by me. We should have won this game. Mike Trout. What do you expect? It was an unbelievable catch.”
Cron’s ball cleared the shrubbery beyond the center-field wall. Trout at his best wouldn’t have brought that one back. Not Willie Mays or anyone else, either.
It stayed 2-2 through the sixth. Both teams went to their bullpen in the seventh. Hernandez (18-9) and Heaney got no-decisions. Since Hernandez has just one more start, it appears 20 victories are out of reach.
“You’re disappointed,” he said. “I want to get to 20 every year. What are you going to do? You’ve just got to work harder and be ready for next season. I’m not done yet.”
Hernandez also entered the game needing 4 1/3 innings to reach 200 for an eighth consecutive season (check) and 15 strikeouts to reach 200 for a seventh consecutive season (he now needs nine).
His final start will be next weekend against Oakland at Safeco Field in the season’s concluding series. Manager Lloyd McClendon said Hernandez would either start Friday or get an extra day of rest and start Saturday.
A victory in his final start would enable the King to match his career high of 19 victories in 2009. It’s possible, of course, the Mariners could also use him in relief at some point to get a victory.
The Mariners did just that 18 years ago when Randy Johnson became the first pitcher in franchise history to win 20 games. It was the Big Unit’s only 20-victory season with the Mariners.
So who knows?
The loss pushed the Mariners to 74-81 and to the brink of elimination from the possibility of postseason play. Their tragic number is one: One more loss or one more Houston victory will make it mathematically certain.
By winning, the Angels remained one-half game behind Houston in the battle for the American League’s final wild-card berth.
Freese’s blast blast came after the Mariners missed a scoring chance in the top of the ninth. Robinson Cano led off with a single to right against Angels closer Huston Street. Brad Miller replaced Cano and stole second.
Franklin Gutierrez’s grounder to third failed to advance Miller, but Street suffered a groin injury as he broke from the mound to back up third. Street required assistance to leave the field.
After Jose Alvarez replaced Street, Cron made a diving stop on a sharp grounder by pinch-hitter Seth Smith’s and turned it into an out as Miller reached third.
The Angels then opted for an intentional walk to Logan Morrison before summoning Fernando Salas (4-2) to pitch to Jesus Sucre. The strategy worked. Sucre grounded out to second.
Then Freese ended it.
SUNDAY: Seattle (RHP Hisashi Iwakuma: 9-4, 3.67 ERA) at Los Angeles Angels (RHP Jered Weaver: 7-12, 4.86), 12:35 p.m., Root Sports,