I’m still amped by what I witnessed yesterday from Felix Hernandez, and clearly, they’re amped in Hernandez’s native Venezuela. Old friend Augusto Cardenas, a sportswriter for Diario Panorama, a large newspaper in Maracaibo, was nice enough to send PDFs of his paper’s section fronts along with this note:
I just wanted to send you our coverage from Venezuela and comment that is one of the biggest news ever… Almost every single newspaper opened with this story in their front page, as we did in Diario Panorama… And the whole country was able to watch his last 6 outs on National TV.
Here are some reflections on yesterday’s historic, exhilirating afternoon:
1) Let’s give some kudos to Brendan Ryan and Jesus Montero for producing the absolutely essential run in the third inning (with help from a couple of mistakes by the Rays). Otherwise, it could have been a nightmare scenario, bringing to mind Harvey Haddix in 1959 (12 perfect innings for the Pirates before losing the game in the 13th). The more recent comparison is Montreal’s Pedro Martinez, who on June 5, 1995 in San Diego threw nine perfect innings agains the Padres. But at the end of nine, the game was still scoreless. The Expos scored in the top of the 10th. Pedro went to the mound in the bottom of the inning, and promptly gave a leadoff double to Bip Roberts. Expos manager Felipe Alou lifted Martinez for closer Mel Rojas, who saved Pedro’s win. But the perfect game he would have had if only his teammates had scored was forever lost.
Hernandez has had way too many hard-luck losses or no-decisions, but on this day, the Mariners gave him just enough support.
2) Let’s also give some kudos to John Jaso, who also caught Hernandez’s two-hitter at Yankee Stadium — the game that Eric Wedge said was the best he’s ever seen from one of his pitchers, including Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia in Cy Young seasons. Jaso and Felix have a beautiful rapport going, and in the post-game press conference, Hernandez was effusive in his praise for Jaso, saying that all he did was throw the pitches Jaso called. Pitching coach Carl Willis told Dave Mahler on KJR today that Hernandez shook off just three pitches out of 113, which is remarkable.
It had to be especially sweet for Jaso to do it against his old team, the Rays. I don’t think it’s much of a secret that one of the reasons the Rays traded Jaso was because of doubts about his defensive ability. He’ll never be Johnny Bench (though Bench never caught a perfect game), but I think he’s shown that he can be a competent major-league catcher, in addition to an above-average major-league hitter.
3) One humorous moment during the press conference came after Hernandez was asked to make some comments in Spanish. He did so, an extensive monologue, during which Jaso listened intently. When Felix ended, Jaso waited a moment, then chimed in, “Yo, tambien.” Me, too.
Felix thought it was hysterical. He laughed heartily and exclaimed, “Yes!” and then gave Jaso a high-five.
4) Jaso is looking more and more like the best asset acquired as a result of the Cliff Lee trade. It’s an indirect acquisition — general manager Jack Zduriencik flipped one of the original pieces, reliever Josh Lueke (along with his immense baggage) to Tampa Bay last offseason. It was a deal that initially didn’t cause much of a ripple, but has proven to be a steal for Seattle.
5) Speaking of Zduriencik, there was a funny moment after the game in the crowded media elevator, heading down for the post-game interviews.. Zduriencik was on board, and he jokingly took out his cell phone and said, loudly, “No, we’re not trading Felix.” Much laughter.
6) The only down side for Hernandez was that his wife and two kids flew back to their native Venezuela last week.
“I’m alone, man,” he said.
Hernandez found himself alone on the bench, as well, as the game progressed. Teammates adhered to the age-old superstition of not talking to the pitcher in the midst of a no-hitter.
“His family leaves, and his teammates won’t even talk to him,” joked Jaso.
7) I’ve gotten a lot of mileage , much of it tongue in cheek, about never covering a no-hitter in 27 years. But I feel fortunate that I’ve covered what I feel are the three best games Hernandez has ever pitched. The first was on April 11, 2007, when he went into Fenway Park, on the night of Daisuke Matsuzaka’s Boston debut, and absolutely stole the show with a one-hit shutout. I was absolutely, positively certain he was going to throw a no-no that night, until J.D. Drew bounced through a single leading off the eighth. I’m not so sure Felix wasn’t more dominant on that night than yesterday. Next was the two-hit, 1-0 win at Yankee Stadium just two starts ago, referred to earlier. To hold down that lineup, in that ballpark, in that kind of tight game, was the stuff of true greatness. And a perfect game speaks for itself.
8) A fun stat is Bill James’ “Game Score,” which tries to put a numerical value on a pitcher’s outing. Here are the details.
Felix’s Game Score for his perfect game was 99, which is extraordinary — but not tops for a perfect game. It ranks fourth, actually. Sandy Koufax and Matt Cain are tied at 101, solely because they had more strikeouts — 14 apiece. Randy Johnson, with one more strikeout than Felix’s 12, had a 100 score for his perfect game. The highest score ever for a pitcher in a nine-inning game was not a perfecto. It was 105 by Kerry Wood in his extraordinary 20-strikeout one-hitter for the Cubs in 1998. Four other players have reached 100 without virtue of a perfect game, including three by Nolan Ryan (no big surprise there). . Three were in no-hitters (twice by Ryan, once by Warren Spahn), and three in one-hitters (including ex-Mariner Brandon Morrow, as well as Ryan and Curt Schilling).
9) This is getting wide play, so you may have already seen it, but I think it’s just awesome. It shows the Jackson Generals, the Mariners’ Class AA affiliate, warming up for a game ni an essentially empty stadium while the end of yesterday’s game in Seattle is shown on the big screen. Watch what happens (and keep in mind that Felix’s older brother, Moises, is a pitcher for Jackson):
10) I’ll tell you the precise point at which I knew that Felix had something special. Fourth inning, B.J. Upton at the plate, looking as overmatched as you’ll ever see a major-league hitter — and not a bad one. It reminded me of John Kruk facing Randy Johnson in the All-Star Game. He wanted no part of it.
11) Felix is in a very exclusive club now. I’m not sure if he really gets to meet Kate Upton, but he did get a welcome from one member: