The Mariners were hopefully watching the Royals-Angels game in the clubhouse after the game — the Royals were leading at the time — but that lead has disintegrated. It doesn’t look like the Mariners are going to get any help from Yuniesky Betancourt and company.
But the good news for the Mariners’ tonight, in addition to their 2-1 victory, was that like Franklin Gutierrez a night earlier, they avoided a costly injury. Felix Hernandez twisted his ankle in the third inning, but he appeared to be fine. In fact, after the play in which he slipped on the wet turf going after Marcus Thames’ blooper behind him, Hernandez worked 4 1/3 innings, gave up one hit, and struck out four. Sounds like he’s OK — but the proof came on Branyan’s home run. Unlike the Gutierrez homer earlier this year, he watched. And like on the Gutierrez homer, he leapt in celebration.
“It was the same as what happened with Gutierrez last night — you hold your breath and hope it’s not severe,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “After the game, we checked on him, and he had no ill-effects from it. You can kind of tell out there he was moving around. I think the big thing was when Russell hit the home run, I looked around in the dugout and he was jumping. So I think his ankle is fine.”
Hernandez was using the same locker he used on Aug. 4, 2005, when he made his major-league debut against the Tigers at age 19. He lost that game, but last night won his 50th career game.
“We’ve talked about it over and over again — to be able to have Felix come back after a loss — that’s his 10th win after we suffered a loss,” Wakamatsu said. “We keep talking about the belief system, and how much he means to this club. He battled his pitch count early on. He had 60-plus pitches in three innings, and still survived and battled to go seven innings, which allows us to stack up our bullpen with (Mark) Lowe and (David) Aardsma, which we feel real good about, and give the bullpen a break after last night’s game.
“Felix turned his ankle early in the ballgame, and I think he gave up one hit after that. That shows his competitiveness and how much he battled to get into that seventh inning. I thought he did a great job, came out and competed, his stuff was good. Just the pitch count got up a little bit. Other than that, you can’t ask for anything more.”
Hernandez said of the game, “It was a battle. With the bad weather, I was sweating, it was humid. It was a good battle for both sides. Armando threw a pretty good game. After the first few innings when we didn’t score runs, I was like, ‘Come on, Felix, it’s time to step up.”
In the first inning, he said, “They were jumping on the fastball. After that I just mixed up with the breaking ball.”
Here’s how he described the play that hurt his ankle — an injury he’s had before.
“I just went after the ball and my ankle just got bad. I’m getting used it, but I’m fine.”
And about Branyan’s home run: “Rick (Griffin, the trainer) said, ‘You’re jumping around, huh? Your ankle feels good, huh?’ I said, ‘Hell, yeah, now it feels good.’ ”
Now, on to Branyan. First, here’s what he said about Felix: “He pitched his butt off. You saw tonight the kind of competitor he is. He gave us seven solid innings tonight and walked away with a win. The bullpen looked great with Lowe and Aardsma at the back end. We’re definitely pleased with the way we’re playing. Last night was tough, definitely a tough loss, but we rebounded today and were able to sneak one out.
“It’s almost as if we expect to win the ball game each and every time he’s on the mound. If we lose a ball game, we just say, ‘Hey, we’re going to be all right because we got Fi-Fi on the mound. We gotta great chance to win this ball game, and that’s what we’ve done. When the bell rings, he answers the call. He’s been that good this year.”
On hitting his 24th homer, tying his 2002 career high: “I try to look forward and do what it takes to prepare for the next game. That home run tonight did tie my career high, but I haven’t had time to look back at what that means. I don’t really know what it means. I’m just looking forward to preparing myself for the rest of the season and trying to finish up strong.
“I feel like I’ve been going up there the last two weeks trying to pull the ball. That at-bat, I got real focused on trying to see the ball deep and hitting it the other way, but it just happened to be a slider up in the zone, and I was able to pull it. ”
On the confidence Wakamatsu has shown in him: “It’s important for a lot of the guys on this ball club, just establishing that confidence. You can almost draw names out of a hat in that bullpen, everyone is equally strong. That’s what Wak has done with our position players. We all believe strongly in one another, and we believe at any moment that anyone the lineup is capable of winning the ball game for us by getting the big hit.
“For myself, being able to face lefties, I feel like I have just as quality of an at-bat against a lefty as I do a righty, and to be able to prove that it means a lot to me.”