5 best games by pitchers in Mariners history

January 18th, 2021

SEATTLE -- The Big Unit. King Félix. The Big Maple. There are so many names and performances to choose from when pondering the best individual pitching performances in Mariners history.

But alas, we’ve settled on the Top 5. For the purposes of this piece, we only included a pitcher’s best performance with the Mariners to spread the wealth.

1. Félix Hernández 
Aug. 15, 2012, vs. Rays
9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 12 K, 113 pitches; Perfect game

The craft. The coronation. The King. This was the day Hernández became known to the mainstream as “Félix” and etched himself among the very best of his generation.

Hernández emphatically punching his fist and kicking his right leg into the sun-soaked Seattle sky that afternoon remains -- up there with Ken Griffey Jr. scoring on Edgar Martinez's double -- among the franchise’s most iconic moments. To this day, it’s MLB’s most recent among the 23 perfect games in history.

With a wicked changeup and gnarly curveball to mix in with high-90s heat, Hernández struck out a dozen that day, including eight of his final 12 batters, to truly embody a pitcher who gets better as the game goes on. He also was aided by what turned out to be a big-time hit from Jesus Montero, a bloop single in the third inning that wound up being the difference in a 1-0 game.

2. Randy Johnson
Oct. 2, 1995, vs. Angels
9 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 12 K, 125 pitches

Whittling down The Big Unit’s top Mariners outing was not easy, but given the monumental stakes of the American League West tiebreaker game of 1995, this one tops the list.

“What better pitcher would you want out there at home?” manager Lou Piniella said at the time, prepping to start his ace on short rest in front of 52,356 for a Monday matinee at the Kingdome.

With the season -- and possibly baseball as they knew it in Seattle -- on the line, Johnson propelled the Mariners into the postseason by throwing his sixth complete game of the year, giving up just one run on three hits and one walk alongside 12 strikeouts en route to his 18th win. It was the capstone to the first of his five Cy Young Awards.

Though Johnson had plenty of other remarkable games -- he threw the club’s first no-hitter on June 2, 1990, against the Tigers and struck out 19 twice among many other gems -- that day against the Angels was the first in the Mariners’ magical October, making it his most memorable.

3. James Paxton
May 8, 2018, at Blue Jays
9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 7 K, 99 pitches; No-hitter

Paxton’s no-hitter was one of the more epic in recent MLB memory -- he went the distance for a Mariners club teetering on first place, tossed fewer than 100 pitches, threw his hardest in the ninth inning, and above all, completed the feat in his homeland of Canada. The Big Maple, who was drafted by the very Blue Jays he no-hit but didn’t sign with, also notched his first complete game in the process.

Paxton became just the second Canadian-born pitcher to throw a no-no -- but he became the first to do so on Canadian soil. He also became just the 12th pitcher to no-hit an opposing team on fewer than 100 pitches, a feat known as “a Maddux” as an homage to the efficient Hall of Famer.

Circling back to his stuff that night, Paxton overcame three walks in the first four innings while battling command of a mid-90s fastball. But he labored through thanks to his curve and cutter in the later innings, and once history and adrenaline kicked in, the 6-foot-4 lefty turned to his high-90s heat -- each of his final seven pitches were his fastest of the game.

Paxton had another gem that year that should be mentioned for this list, when he struck out a career-high 16 (which remains the second-most in franchise history) in a 3-2 loss to Oakland the start before his no-hitter.

4. Hisashi Iwakuma
Aug. 12, 2015, vs. Orioles
9 IP, 0 H, 3 BB, 7 K, 116 pitches; No-hitter

Days after he was shopped ahead of the Trade Deadline before ultimately remaining in Seattle, Iwakuma made Mariners and MLB history by throwing the franchise's fifth no-hitter and becoming just the second Japanese pitcher after Hideo Nomo (1996, 2001) to toss a no-no in the Majors.

Iwakuma finessed his way through the O’s lineup, utilizing a sinker-splitter combo that helped induce 10 groundouts against one of the Majors’ more hard-hitting lineups in 2015. He walked two in the fourth inning, but he retired 14 of his final 15 batters.

"To be honest with you, I never thought that I would accomplish this no-hitter,” Iwakuma said that day. “A lot of that goes to my teammates who played great defense today. My family that was there today, I felt strong with them being around. I felt the fans a lot toward the end especially. It means a lot to me accomplishing this in a Seattle Mariners uniform.”

5. Erik Hanson
Aug. 1, 1990, at A’s
10 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 11 K, 122 pitches

In an era where going the distance was the norm, Hanson threw 10 shutout innings against first-place and eventual AL champion Oakland, with 11 strikeouts and just two hits allowed. Unfortunately for Seattle, the game was scoreless after 10 innings, and reliever Mike Schooler gave up a game-winning single in the 11th that spoiled Hanson’s heroics.

That night, Hanson’s game score -- which factors the quality (based on runs, hits, homers, walks, strikeouts) and quantity (innings) of a starting pitcher’s performance -- was 99, which is tied with Hernandez’s perfect game for the highest in franchise history. Only 35 other times since the mound was lowered in 1969 has a pitcher reached the mark that Hanson did that night.

Hanson was among the Mariners’ lone bright spots in 1990 thanks in part to that big night at the Coliseum. That year, he went 18-9 with a 3.24 ERA, striking out 211 in 236 innings for a team that finished fifth in the AL West, at 77-85.

Honorable mentions

Mike Leake (July 19, 2019, vs. LAA) came three outs shy of a perfect game, and against an Angels club that no-hit the Mariners one week prior -- in a game that Leake started. Leake lost the perfecto in the ninth inning, giving up a leadoff single, but he punched out Mike Trout for the final out to put a cap on his dominance that night.

Mark Langston (June 8, 1987, vs. TEX) was known as the Mariners’ iron man, still holding the club record for most innings pitched in a season, with 272 over 35 starts in ’87. That was aided in part by his nine-inning, complete-game shutout against the Rangers, when he gave up just two hits and one walk and struck out nine.

Taijuan Walker (Sept. 13, 2016, at LAA) threw nine dominant innings in a complete-game shutout that had huge AL Wild Card implications, pushing the Mariners to within 2 1/2 games back with two weeks to play. Walker gave up just three hits and walked zero while striking out 11 -- including three by Trout, which made Walker one of just three pitchers to punch out the eventual AL MVP at least that many times in a single game that season.

Jim Beattie (Sept. 27, 1983, vs. KC) may not have realized it when giving up a third-inning single, but it wound up being the only factor that held him back from what would’ve been the 10th perfect game in MLB history and the first for the Mariners. His game score of 92 that day was the Mariners’ highest in franchise history at the time, and it held that benchmark until Hanson’s 10-inning gem in ’90.

Mike Moore (Sept. 17, 1988, vs. MIL) gave glimpses of what was to come in the ’89 season in which he was an AL Cy Young Award finalist with a September gem against the Brewers, who he held to two hits with eight strikeouts over a complete-game shutout that featured 0-for-3 showings from Paul Molitor, Robin Yount and Gary Sheffield.