Felix rises to challenge against Weaver
Mariners ace gets better of fellow AL West stalwart at Angel Stadium
ANAHEIM -- Showing up at Angel Stadium for Opening Night, Felix Hernandez knew he would have his hands full facing Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton in the heart of the Angels' lineup. But that was only part of the challenge.
The Mariners' ace also would be engaging Jered Weaver. King Felix and Weaver are keenly aware of each other. Over the past five seasons, only a handful of pitchers have been in their class. They have been the very best the American League West has had to offer.
"You've got to be on top of your game when you're facing him," Hernandez said, his work done late Monday night and his wide smile reflecting the outcome. "He's one of the best in the game. We've faced each other a lot of times, and it's never easy against that guy."
What had been a taut duel befitting two of the game's premier artists got away from the Angels in a six-run ninth inning. The Mariners were now savoring a 10-3 triumph, Hernandez delighted to be 5-0 after seven Opening Day adventures.
"We have a lot of personality in this clubhouse," Hernandez said, beaming. "We're here to have fun and win games. This is a good start."
Justin Smoak, a pivotal figure for these Mariners, gave Hernandez what he needed and exactly what new manager Lloyd McClendon wanted: production -- loud and impactful -- behind Robinson Cano in the cleanup spot.
Smoak's double, walk and game-breaking three-run blast in the ninth were what Seattle envisioned from its 6-foot-4, 230-pound first baseman since the club acquired him from Texas in 2010 as the centerpiece in the Cliff Lee deal.
It hasn't come with any consistency yet, but Smoak, at 27, could be a difference-maker if this is his breakout season at last. For starters, it couldn't have been much better than what he did to upstage the game's best player on a brisk Seattle-like night in Southern California.
"Smoak is a big part of this team," Hernandez said. "We need him to keep going like that."
Trout, who agreed over the weekend to a contract extension keeping him with the Angels through 2020, jolted King Felix right out of the chute.
Following a leadoff single by Kole Calhoun after Weaver had put down Cano and the Mariners in the top of the first, Trout lifted a pitch in his wheelhouse over the wall in left-center. The $144.5 million man, all of 22 years old, had given his hometown fans what they'd come to see.
"A breaking ball that leaked over the inner half," McClendon said of one of Hernandez's few mistakes. "Throw that to a good hitter and he's going to take advantage of it. He didn't miss it."
Then Smoak began to go to work. The switch-hitter opened his season with a leadoff double in the second, scoring an unearned run on Michael Saunders sacrifice fly.
"Once we scored three runs on him," Trout said, "he flicked a switch and went to nasty mode."
An unearned run courtesy of the Mariners' defense returned to Weaver a two-run cushion in the third, Pujols doubling over Dustin Ackley's head in left. Hernandez pitched around Hamilton, walking him, and struck out David Freese to leave runners at the corners.
Eight of Hernandez's last 10 outs would be on strikeouts. When he put away Howie Kendrick to finish the sixth with his 103rd and final delivery of the night, the King had notched 11 strikeouts while allowing six baserunners.
"I'm not trying to strike out everybody," Hernandez said. "You can blow people away when you're young. Not anymore. I don't have to throw that hard to get people out now.
"It's like with Weaver. The whole idea is to keep hitters off balance. That's what we both do. He's really smart, a really good competitor. He pitched a great game tonight. But we came from behind."
This was vintage King Felix, the one constant in Seattle over some frustrating seasons. The 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner, he also finished second in the balloting in '09, fourth in '12 and eighth last year. Hernandez is a four-time All-Star, with a 2012 perfect game against the Rays on his resume.
Since '09, only the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw owns a better ERA than Hernandez's 2.85. Weaver is fifth in the Majors over this stretch at 3.03.
Weaver has 113 wins in 232 career starts, Hernandez 111 in 270 career outings for a team that too often could not score for him. Hernandez has a slightly better ERA -- 3.25 to 3.20 -- but Weaver allows fewer walks and hits per inning: 1.143 to Felix's. 1.203.
Their styles are a study in contrasts, but the results are the same. These big right-handers rack up outs and keep their teams in games.
"It's always nice to win on Opening Day," McClendon said. "I will say that given the history Felix has had, his battles, the lack of runs, it's really special to see the guys battle back like that."