Felix in fine form as Mariners blank A's in opener
Ace racks up eight K's in 7 2/3 innings; Gutierrez delivers big hit
OAKLAND -- Felix Hernandez looked every bit like a $175 million pitcher Monday as the Mariners ace blanked the A's on three hits over 7 2/3 innings in a 2-0 Opening Day victory at O.co Coliseum.
With new leadoff hitter Franklin Gutierrez delivering a two-run single in the fifth inning, the Mariners held on for their club-record seventh straight season-opening victory.
Hernandez, who signed a seven-year extension in February, has been on the mound for six of those Opening Day wins, and Monday's might have been his best yet. He struck out eight with one walk, allowing just four baserunners while throwing 109 pitches.
"Opening Day, it's good to start the right way," Hernandez said. "It's pretty special. It was loud today with a lot of people, but I was just in my game, just trying to make my pitches. I felt pretty good today."
The A's finally knocked Hernandez out after a double and a walk with two out in the eighth. Charlie Furbush then walked Coco Crisp to load the bases, but Stephen Pryor came in to get a rally-killing groundout from pinch-hitter Derek Norris.
Tom Wilhelmsen gave up a two-out walk in the ninth before retiring Brandon Moss on a flyout to preserve the shutout.
Hernandez is now 4-0 with a 1.33 ERA in six Opening Day starts. He's tied with Randy Johnson for most Opening Day starts in franchise history and joins Bert Blyleven and Dwight Gooden as the only pitchers since 1920 to pitch six season openers prior to the age of 27.
Hernandez, who last August became the 23rd pitcher in history to throw a perfect game, handcuffed the A's until former teammate John Jaso doubled with one out in the fourth.
Jaso received a Rolex watch from Hernandez prior to the game as a gift for catching that perfecto, but he wasn't as gracious when he drove a fastball into the left-center gap and then moved to third on a slow groundout by Josh Reddick.
"He broke up the no-hitter," Hernandez said with a shake of his head. "I was going to say, 'Dude, what time is it?' But no, no, it's a baseball game."
"He grinned at me when I got that hit," Jaso said. "I was going to get a hit. I wasn't going to let him get a perfect game."
But Hernandez got out of that jam when shortstop Brendan Ryan fielded a hard shot up the middle by Yoenis Cespedes, spun and fired to first to easily beat the A's cleanup hitter.
Ryan, hitting in the ninth spot after last year's .194 season, was more than just a glove man in this one. He reached base all three of his plate appearances on a single and two walks and scored on Gutierrez's single in the fifth.
"He's worked hard all spring," said manager Eric Wedge. "He takes a lot pride in knowing he has to get better offensively. You saw that all spring and it was nice to see him put up some good at-bats tonight."
The winning rally was set up when Dustin Ackley walked with one out, then hustled to third to narrowly beat the throw by right fielder Reddick on Ryan's single. Ryan took second on the throw and both runners scored on Gutierrez's single up the middle for a 2-0 lead.
"That's what Ack and I are going to be doing all year," Ryan said. "Hopefully the bottom of the lineup is just getting on base and getting things started."
That was all the runs Hernandez needed as he became the first Mariner to win four Opening Day starts. He's now one win shy of his 100th career victory.
Oakland left-hander Brett Anderson wasn't quite as efficient as Hernandez, but he struck out the side in the first and then largely worked around four hits and four walks in his seven-inning stint, with only Gutierrez's blow causing damage.
"He's a tremendous pitcher, obviously, $175 million worth," Anderson said. "You go out there and try to throw up zeros because the track record says he's going to do it, too. I was able to do that except one inning, and it turned out to cost us."
The A's have now lost an American League-record nine straight openers, this one coming in front of a sellout crowd of 36,067 as they celebrated the return from last year's AL West championship.
Seattle's seven straight Opening Day wins are tied with the D-backs for the longest active streak in the Majors. Those two are the first clubs to win seven in a row since the White Sox from 1987-93.
Much of that success is due, of course, to the guy on the mound.
"Opening Day, midseason, you really can't tell the difference," Ryan said. "He's such a competitor and I just love the way he gets excited out there when guys are making plays behind him. Most of the time we don't because he's making guys miss. You always feel good about your chances when he's out there."
Hernandez said he was motivated both by the boisterous sellout crowd in Oakland as well as the 15,376 fans who showed up at Safeco Field on Monday night to watch the game on the new giant video screen.
"They booed me here," Hernandez said. "I said, 'OK, I have to do my job.' And I knew those people in Seattle were watching the game, so I've got to do a good job."
Consider it done.