The King has left the building: Félix bows out

Icon makes emotional exit in final start of 15-year Seattle run

September 27th, 2019

SEATTLE -- left nothing on the mound in his final appearance with the Mariners, except some heartfelt tears.

The Mariners icon closed out a 15-year run in Seattle with an emotional start on Thursday, allowing three runs on five hits and four walks over 5 1/3 innings, as he battled the A’s in front of a large King’s Court -- his personal rooting section at T-Mobile Park.

While Hernández was fighting his emotions, the A’s were fighting for an American League Wild Card playoff berth. Oakland won, 3-1, but this night was about far more than that for Mariners fans and their long-time ace.

“All these years I’ve played for Seattle, I’ve just been having fun,” Hernández said. “There’s a lot of different things going through my mind right now. I don’t even know what to say. … There’s a lot of emotions out there. I’ve been here 15 years and there’s a lot of stuff going on.”

The 33-year-old will be a free agent at season's end and he finished this injury-plagued season at 1-8 with a 6.40 ERA in 15 starts and is 1-16 with a 6.38 ERA dating back over 26 outings (25 starts) since July 1, 2018.

Hernández said he doesn’t know what the Mariners' plans are, but he intends to keep pitching somewhere.

“We’ll see if I find a job,” he said with a smile. “But I’m not retiring. I don’t know what’s going to happen next year or what they’re going to do, but we’ll see.”

Despite his recent struggles, Hernández remains a fan favorite in Seattle and he gave his supporters all he had in his final outing. Hernández wiggled out of two bases-loaded jams, including in the fifth when left fielder Dylan Moore somehow hauled in a 109-mph line drive over his head with a leaping catch to keep the score at 3-1.

“As soon as I got up from that catch, Félix didn’t go to the dugout. He came straight to me and we high-fived,” said Moore, a rookie utility player. “That’s something I’ll never forget the rest of my life. It’s awesome to be part of something like this. He goes down in history as one of the best pitchers to play and it’s cool to be part of that.”

Hernández and the crowd roared in approval at Moore’s catch, and Mariners manager Scott Servais sent the veteran back out for one batter in the sixth -- against Robbie Grossman, who Hernández retired on a fly out to center -- before removing him at a season-high 106 pitches.

Servais hugged the hurler after a brief conversation on the mound, and Hernández proceeded to exchange lengthy hugs with all his infield teammates before turning to the crowd and doffing his cap, tapping his heart and tugging at everyone’s emotions as he walked off with tears streaming down his cheeks.

“I said, ‘It’s time,’” Servais said of his message on the mound. “I said, ‘I’m proud of you and how you handled everything. And you will always be The King in this town.’ And he will. There will never be another like Félix here.”

Hernández was serenaded from the time he walked to the bullpen before the game by an expanded King’s Court section of about 10,000 fans down the left-field line who were wearing yellow T-shirts that read “Forever the King” while waving “K” cards and chanting at every two-strike count.

Hernández responded by acknowledging the group time and again, knowing this was the last time he’d enjoy that unique partnership. After the game, he walked out to the King’s Court section and shook hands and posed for photos for as long as he could before rejoining his teammates in the clubhouse.

Even the A's were moved by the scene.

"It was a surreal feeling," said Oakland reliever Jesus Luzardo. "I grew up watching him. I didn't even tear up when I debuted or got called up, but I teared up in the bullpen watching that. It was a crazy feeling."

“It’s the best section in baseball,” Hernández said. “And today it was rockin’, it was poppin’. It was good. My relationship with the fans, they’re always nice people. That’s why I call this home. That’s why I call this my house.”

The A’s, however, weren’t nearly as cordial. Oakland pushed across a run in the first inning on two walks and two singles while forcing Hernández to throw 30 pitches, then added a two-run homer by Matt Chapman in the second.

Hernández rewarded his cheering section with three strikeouts -- gesturing to the King’s Court after each one. He raised his career total to 2,524 strikeouts, 36th most in MLB history. He ranks first in Mariners history in wins (169), innings (2,729 2/3) and starts (418) as well.

Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager, one of the few veterans remaining with Hernández on the rebuilding club, was moved to tears on the mound after exchanging hugs with his teammate.

“He’s truly iconic,” Seager said. “It’s just a different level. You think about how long he played here. He could have left a couple times. He always stayed true and wanted to be here. This was his home. That’s what he always talked about. All the emotions you’d see on the mound and the pointing and ‘This is my house’ and all that stuff, it’s real for him. He absolutely lived it and it was pretty special and something I’m definitely never going to forget.”