"For real?" Hernandez said. "What about last year?"
Even though he'd thrown a perfect game against the Rays in 2012 in Seattle and struck out a career-high 15 last season at Tropicana Field, he'd never topped Tampa Bay on its own turf in four prior meetings. Not that he hadn't pitched well enough.
He owns a tidy 2.50 ERA in five Tropicana games, including now his first victory, this one via his second shutout of the season. Not much has befuddled the 29-year-old this year as he's now a Major League-best 8-1 with a 1.91 ERA in 10 starts.
"I don't know what to say about the guy," manager Lloyd McClendon said after Hernandez outdueled Chris Archer, who threw eight scoreless frames before Nelson Cruz's three-run homer off closer Brad Boxberger in the ninth. "We need a complete game and he goes out and gives us a complete game. He was phenomenal."
Hernandez is the only American League pitcher with two shutouts this season, with the Braves' Shelby Miller equaling him in the National League. The last time a Mariners pitcher had two shutouts in the first 46 games of a season was Randy Johnson in 1993.
If this looked familiar to the Rays, there was good reason. Hernandez hadn't throw a shutout on four hits or fewer since his perfect game against them three years earlier.
And while the Rays scrapped together their four singles, one walk and a hit batter, they wound up with just two batters over the minimum thanks to four double-play grounders.
"There were not a lot of runners," Hernandez said. "Every time somebody got a single, we got a double play. It was a pretty good game."
Though Hernandez had eight strikeouts, he pitched to contact when needed and the formula helped him throw a complete game as he finished with 101 pitches. That ploy also fed into the double-play total.
"Usually with Felix, we know how we want to attack guys," catcher Mike Zunino said. "But guys attack Felix different. They either want to come out aggressive and swing early, or they want to be patient and try to wait him out. Today they came out swinging early and he made pitches and kept the ball down in the zone. And he kept filling up the strike zone, which is a big thing when you're facing a team like that."
The Mariners are now 9-1 in games started by Hernandez this season and he and Cruz have carried the club over its first two months. For Cruz, it's a welcome change being on the same team.
"He was the type of Felix he's always been," said Cruz. "I guess when moments are great, he finds a way to get it done."