SEATTLE -- Of all the magical moments of Felix Hernandez's career -- the perfect game, the American League Cy Young Award, the six All-Star berths, the countless King's Courts and double-digit strikeout games -- the King loves to recount another highlight that isn't listed among his pile of pitching performances.
If you want Hernandez to smile, bring up "The Slam." It was eight years ago on this date -- June 23, 2008 -- when Hernandez strode to the plate with the bases loaded at Shea Stadium and launched an opposite-field grand slam off the Mets' Johan Santana, becoming the first AL pitcher to achieve that feat in 37 years.
While numerous National League hurlers have hit slams since, Hernandez remains the only AL pitcher to do so now in 45 seasons. The last AL hurler to hit a slam was Steve Dunning of the Indians on May 11, 1971, off the A's Diego Segui, before the designated hitter rule was instituted in 1973.
Lest anyone forgets, Hernandez is happy to recount his hitting glory. Just ask first-year Mariners manager Scott Servais.
"Yeah, we all know Felix hit a grand slam," Servais said with a chuckle. "That's part of his deal. It's 'Hi, I'm Felix Hernandez. Did you know I hit a home run?' That's kind of how our introductions went."
Servais is teasing, of course, but Hernandez does love to hit. He just hasn't quite been able to duplicate that storybook slam. In the eight years since, he's had 36 plate appearances and hit a less than majestic .067 (2-for-30) with a double, two walks and four sacrifices. That would be a .125 on-base percentage and .100 slugging percentage, which won't help Hernandez in his Hall of Fame candidacy whenever he gets around to retiring.
Counting his grand slam and a hit he had the previous year, 2007, Hernandez's career line is .103/.146/.205. So no, he shouldn't quit his every-fifth-day job.
"I was a pretty good hitter in Little League," Hernandez said of his youth days in Venezuela. "I played shortstop. That was good. I still remember. My mom has everything on the wall. Everything I ever won, she's got up there. In Little League, I'd pitch the first game and play shortstop in the second one. But when I came here when I was 16, that's when I stopped."
When he uncorked on Santana, Hernandez figured that was his first home run since his Little League days.
"My approach? Just swing. I closed my eyes," Hernandez told reporters after that 5-2 win. "I was happy and I was thinking that's all I need -- four runs."
Hernandez wound up spraining his ankle while covering home plate on a wild pitch later that game and went on the 15-day disabled list. That was the last time he went on the DL until this season as he's currently sidelined with a strained calf muscle that will likely keep him out until next month's All-Star break.
When he returns, the Mariners do have five Interleague road games against the Pirates and Cubs at the end of July. So, well, you never know ...