All hail the King! Felix throws perfect game

August 15th, 2012

SEATTLE -- General manager Jack Zduriencik hushed the crowd of reporters on the elevator headed to the Mariners' clubhouse after the game on Wednesday afternoon, held his cell phone to his ear and said for all to hear, "No. No. I am NOT going to trade Felix Hernandez."

It was the perfect response to the first perfect game in Mariners history, a giddy moment for a franchise that had endured the wrong side of perfection earlier this season at the hands of the White Sox Philip Humber.

Hernandez has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past seven years, but he'd never thrown a no-hitter, let alone been perfect for 27 straight outs.

But history was his on Wednesday, as the 26-year-old Venezuelan became the 23rd perfect pitcher in Major League history -- and third this season -- with a 1-0 masterpiece over the Rays at Safeco Field.

"It's always in my mind," Hernandez said. "Every game, I'm thinking I need to throw a perfect game. For every pitcher, I think it's in their mind. But today it happened, and it's something special. I don't have any words to explain this. This is pretty amazing. This does not happen every day."

The 2010 American League Cy Young winner struck out 12 as he continued an overpowering midseason run with his fourth shutout in the past 10 games, including a five-hitter against the Red Sox, a three-hitter against the Rangers, a two-hitter against the Yankees and, now, perfection against the Rays.

It was the fourth no-hitter in Mariners history and second this season, as six Seattle pitchers combined to do the deed on June 8 against the Dodgers at Safeco.

Randy Johnson (1990) and Chris Bosio (1993) are the other Mariners with individual no-hitters, but neither was perfect.

Hernandez had thrown a one-hitter, a 3-0 victory at Boston on April 11, 2007, and has had four two-hitters, including one two starts ago in Yankee Stadium on Aug. 4 in another 1-0 win.

Ironically, none of those one- or two-hitters came at pitcher-friendly Safeco Field, where the King's Court rooting section led the crowd of 21,889 in Wednesday's boisterous environment.

"Awesome," Hernandez said of enjoying the moment with Seattle's fans. "I think they deserve it, and I deserve it, too. It's unbelievable. But I'm a little sad. My wife flew to Venezuela last night. My kids aren't here. I'm alone."

Not too alone after the game, however, as his teammates overwhelmed him on the mound, and later put him in a towel basket and pushed him into the shower for a beer celebration.

"It was great. They took advantage of it, because I always do the bad things," he said with a laugh.

"Yeah," said catcher John Jaso. "Felix got his today."

Hernandez, 11-5 with a 2.60 ERA, has been one of the hottest pitchers in the Majors over the past two months, going 7-0 with a 1.56 ERA with 90 strikeouts in 92 /13 innings over his last 12 starts.

His seven-game win streak is tied for the second longest of his career.

The Rays' best chance for a hit came when leadoff hitter Sam Fuld drove a pitch into the gap in right-center, but the ball was hauled in at the warning track by Eric Thames.

B.J. Upton chopped a grounder to short in the seventh that got past diving third baseman Kyle Seager, but shortstop Brendan Ryan fielded the ball cleanly and threw out Upton by two steps.

Otherwise, Hernandez did the bulk of the work, striking out the side in the sixth and eighth innings and keeping the Rays off balance throughout by working a wicked changeup, curve and slider off a fastball that ticked up to 95 mph in the final frame.

"You could tell he was feeding off the energy from the crowd," said Fuld. "And like [Justin] Verlander, he got stronger as the game went on. I'm sure he was using a lot of adrenaline, but was able to channel that and was still throwing things for strikes. ... He was as dominating in the ninth as he was in any other inning."

Some aggressive baserunning by Ryan got the Mariners on the board in the third inning. After hitting a leadoff single, Ryan got a huge jump on Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson (7-8) and stole second, then charged to third when a changeup in the dirt got past catcher Jose Lobaton.

Designated hitter Jesus Montero then singled to left to drive in Ryan for the one-run lead that held up throughout.

"I'm never going to forget this moment," said Montero, who caught the combined no-hitter earlier in the season. "It's a special moment for everyone. Their pitcher was good, too. He just left that one changeup in the middle, and I hit it good. Thank God we got that run."

And in the end, they got an outcome for Hernandez that almost seemed inevitable at some point in his outstanding career.

"Yeah, it almost seems like a matter of time before it happened," said Jaso. "But this game is weird. A little dribbler here, and it's ruined. But with the competitive attitude and mind he brings to the mound every time ... You just keep making your pitches, and the odds are going to go in your favor eventually. This guy deserved the odds to go in his favor today, for sure."

And now that he's finally notched the goal that has been on his mind so long?

"I'll keep trying to do what I've done my last 10 starts, just doing my job and trying to help my team win," said Hernandez. "That's what's next."