When I had a chance to chat with Oakland general manager Billy Beane this spring during a Cactus League media availability at Chase Field, he lamented the fact that the A’s are facing yet another Opening Day matchup with Felix Hernandez.
“We get the luck opportunity to face Felix every Opening Night,” he said. “My director of baseball operations has been here eight years, and we’ve lost Opening Day since he’s been here. Felix has pitched five or six of them.
Yes, it’s true: The A’s have lost eight consecutive openers, longest streak in the majors. But Hernandez has pitched just four of them — daunting enough for Oakland. Last year in Tokyo, Hernandez pitched eight strong innings (five hits, one run allowed, no walks, six strikeouts) as the Mariners won 3-1.
Two years ago, Hernandez pitched a complete game in Oakland (five hits, two runs, no walks, five strikeouts) as the Marines won 6-2.
And in 2010, Hernandez got a no-decision (6 2/3 innings, three hits, three runs, six walks, four strikeouts) as the Mariners won 5-3 on a two-run single in the ninth by Casey Kotchman — two of Kotchman’s four RBIs in that game, which as we all remember propelled him to an MVP season. Or not.
Then, in 2007, Felix pitched eight shutout innings in Safeco Field, striking out 12, as the Mariners won 4-0 behind a three-run homer from Richie Sexson, which as we all remember propelled — ah, never mind.
The A’s other Opening Day losses were against the Angels (3-0 in 2009, with current Mariner Joe Saunders pitching 6 2/3 shutout innings), 6-5 to the Red Sox in 2008, 15-2 to the Yankees in 2006, and 4-0 to the Orioles in 2005. Their last Opening Day win came in 2004, 5-4 over the Rangers, when the game-winning hit was a two-run double by Eric Byrnes off Ron Mahay to make a winner of Chad Bradford with Arthur Rhodes earning the save. Byrnes, Mahay, Bradford and Rhodes are all out of baseball now.
The Mariner, meanwhile, have the longest current longest Opening Day winning streak — six in a row, helped considerably by Hernandez, who is 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA in five starts. Besides the four already mentioned against the A’s, Hernandez went eight strong innings to beat the Twins (five hits, one run) in 2009.
You could say the A’s had the last laugh, however. In the eight years they’ve lost on Opening Day, they’ve had four winning seasons, including two division titles, and finished ahead of the Mariners in every one of those seasons except 2009. The Mariners, during their six-game winning streak on Opening Day, have two winning seasons and four last-place finishes.