SEATTLE -- King's Court was back in session on Wednesday at Safeco Field, which was a welcome sign for 39,985 Mariners fans. And though Félix Hernández needed help from his friends in a 6-5, 11-inning victory over the White Sox, there was definitely a buzz in the air and another win in the books for the Mariners on a day their ace returned after nearly two months on the disabled list.
"It feels good," Hernandez said after going 6 2/3 innings and getting taken off the hook when his club rallied from a 5-2 deficit after he left the game. "It was fun to be out there, trying to do my job here and help this team to win."
Hernandez gave up 10 hits and five runs in a 94-pitch outing, with most of the damage coming on a three-run blast by White Sox third baseman Todd Frazier one pitch after the King felt he'd got out of the first unscathed on a full-count sinker to Justin Morneau.
Instead, home-plate umpire Andy Fletcher called that pitch a ball, Morneau walked to first and Hernandez exchanged words with Fletcher before leaving his next offering -- a changeup -- up in the zone to the powerful Frazier.
Hernandez admitted he was still distracted by his exchange with Fletcher.
"It was my fault," Hernandez said. "Well, it wasn't my fault. That pitch [before] was a strike."
After Hernandez allowed another run on three singles in the second, the Mariners appeared headed for a rough afternoon. But the 30-year-old settled in and wound up getting into the seventh inning with the score at 5-2, which was good enough to put his team in position to win -- which they did on Leonys Martin's second homer of the game and the team's sixth walk-off home run of the season.
While there are obviously other factors as well, the Mariners are now 29-19 in games with Hernandez on the active roster compared to 19-28 while he was on the DL.
"I think he was the same Felix as usual," said catcher Mike Zunino. "He was a little up in the zone for him, but he's just getting back and going. For him, he's competing. You saw that in the first inning and then he held us there when he needed to and gave the offense time to score runs, which is the biggest part."
Manager Scott Servais has said all along that Hernandez's ability to go deep into games has been sorely missed, so he welcomed the sight of his ace still battling in the seventh.
"For the first time out, he was probably better than I thought he'd be, other than the home run that he gave up to Frazier after not getting the third strike on the hitter before," said Servais. "That was the couple mistakes that he did make, but I thought his stuff was good. I thought he was pretty crisp. After the first inning, if you'd told me he'd get as deep as he did, I probably wouldn't have believed you."
Hernandez said his leg felt fine after missing nearly eight weeks with a strained calf and he'll be ready for his next start next week in Pittsburgh, though he admits there is some tinkering to be done.
"My fastball was really good. I was commanding my fastball to both sides of the plate," he said. "The changeup was sometimes good, then I'd pull it out a little more and it was of the plate. So I've got to work on that."