Jesus Montero said the Mairners were pumped up as they took the field tonight, impressed by the sea of 39,204 yellow-clad fans that greeted them as they emerged from their dugout. Felix Hernandez admitted he had “chills” as he strode in from the bullpen pre-game, to a rousing ovation.
“I think that’s the best game I’ve ever pitched in here at Safeco Field,” Hernandez said. “In front of these guys, the crowd was unbelievable and they were all yelling ‘Felix! Felix! That’s something good.”
Montero was a bit fired up after his three-run homer in the seventh inning broke this 5-1 game wide open.
“We had Felix pitching tonight, he’s the King and I wanted to help him,” Montero said. “We wanted to help him. And finally, late in the game, we helped him.”
Montero initially lost sight of the ball in the lights after hitting it.
“I was surprised because the ball took off so quick,” he said. “I said ‘Where’s the ball?’ And the ball was in the stands. That’s crazy.”
It wasn;t just in the stands. It was in the upper deck.
“I was looking at the lights and I couldn’t see the ball and people were reaching for it and I was like ‘Oh, it’s over there. Thank God!”
Eric Thames also hit the big first home run, breaking up a no-hitter for Roberto Hernandez two out into the fifth inning. In fact, before the Mariners began their four-run rally in the seventh — initiated with an RBI double by John Jaso — they were being outhit by a 7-1 margin.
And yet, they found a way to win. That’s the funny thing about baseball teams when they can put a winning run together. After a while, they gain a bit of confidence and start to do things you never imagined them doing.
“The game was so exciting tonight,” Montero said. “We were like ‘We want to fight tonight, let’s go! We want to win!’ And then, we did it together and we won in the end.”
Trayvon Robinson made another scintillating catch down the left field line to rob Casey Kotchman of a double. Then, with two on in the eighth and Lucas Luetge pitching, Dustin Ackley came up with a ball to his right from Shin-Soo Choo that seemed destined for the outfield. Ackley then shoveled the ball to Brendan Ryan at second for the final out of the frame.
“We made some kind of plays out there defensively,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “Right down to the last play there by Ackley on Choo’s ball. But Felix did a great job of commanding the ball game, Eric (Thames) got us going with the home run…and I’m really happy with Jesus (Montero) there in that situation.”
How did Hernandez view it?
Well, for one thing, it was clear early on he’d need more help from his fielders than was required when he overwhelmed the Rays in the perfect game.
He gave up singles to two of the game’s first three batters. He’d allowed four hits the first three innings, but two double-plays got him out of it.
Then, in the eighth, after a Brendan Ryan error started things off, Hernandez came a couple of feet away from surrendering a three-run homer to Asdrubal Cabrera on a blast caught at the wall. Wedge opted to lift Hernandez at that point, rather than have him face Choo and potentially ruin an otherwse festive night.
But before Hernandez left the mound, he turned to Ryan — who had gathered there with teammates for the pitching change — tapped him on the head with his glove and let him know it was OK. He did’t have to worry about the error.
“I think e’s one of the best shortstops in the league,” Hernandez said. “I said ‘Don’t worry about that. It happens. It’s baseball.”
Ryan appreciated the gesture, knowing how dejected he must have looked.
“I have a hard time not showing how excited or upset I am,” Ryan said.
Then, Ryan shrugged.
“I mean, that’s just the kind of guy he is,” Ryan said. “Telling me to keep my chin up. Nothing new from Felix. Just a solid teammate.”
But tonight, it wasn’t just Hernandez. Tonight, the Mariners won as a team. They didn’t leave it all to their King on the mound.
And that, along with all the pomp and circumstance, truly helped cap a special night. We haven’t seen a charged-up atmosphere like this in a long time here in late August.
“I hope it doesn’t take another perfect game or something to get people to fill the seats,” Ryan said.
I don’t think it will. Just as I don’t think the huge crowd tonight was entirely about Hernandez. Sure, the perfect game helped. But if the Mariners were in the midst of a seven-game losing streak, I doubt that many would have come, no matter how many t-shirts were available.
Seattle is now 24-13 since the All-Star Break, best in the AL. They have won 14 of 15 games at Safeco Field to move within four games of .500. Heck, they even passed the Boston Red Sox in the standings tonight.
That took some good baseball over a sustained period. Make a habit of that, you’ll find more fans willing to show up late in any season.