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June 8, 2014 at 3:59 PM

Mariners 5, Rays 0 — Another gem for Felix Hernandez

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If you are in a debate about win-loss record not being a be-all, end-all stat, you can point to this game today.

Felix Hernandez didn’t get the win on Sunday at Tropicana Field, but he should have.

The Mariners’ ace struck out career-high 15 batters in seven shutout innings of work yet took a no decision for his brilliant effort. Yoervis Medina vultured the win, pitching an inning, walking a batter and getting bailed out on a line-drive double play.

So Felix throws seven shutout innings, gives up four hits, walks one and strikes out a career high 15. But as he said, at least the team got a win.

The Mariners have won seven of their last nine games and are now 33-29 on the season.  It’s the first time the team has been four games over since .500 since the 2009 season.

The pitching duel between Hernandez and hard-throwing Chris Archer was advertised. The Mariners finally broke a scoreless tie in the top of the ninth inning, scoring five runs off of Rays’ closer Grant Balfour.

The late rally was ignited by the unlikeliest of people – Brad Miller. The young shortstop came into the game carrying an anemic .169 batting average. But he looked like the Miller of last year, hammering a line drive down the right field line just out of the reach of a leaping James Loney. He was thinking triple the whole way.

“That felt pretty good,” Miller said. “We were just scratching and clawing. I saw it get down in the corner. I didn’t break stride and went for it.”

With Miller on third, Willie Bloomquist coaxed walk from Balfour to bring Endy Chavez to the plate.

The veteran outfielder, who was just called up few weeks ago, punched at a 0-2 cut fastball, squibbing a soft liner just past Yunel Escobar at shortstop to put the Mariners up 1-0.

The swing was far from textbook. Chavez’s butt was going toward first base and his arms were flailing at the pitch out on the outside of the plate.

“After watching that for about the last eight or nine years, it’s not luck any more,” McClendon said. “I think it’s talent. I’ve seen him do it time and time again.”

Chavez was taking grief from Hernandez and others in the clubhouse about the swing.

“I was just trying to put the ball in play,” Chavez said. “The guys were making fun of me, saying I’m the only guy in the world that can do that.”

So how does he do it?

“I think that’s talent,” he joked.

Seattle wasn’t done with one run. James Jones broke the game open, lacing a triple over the head of right fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who misread the hard liner, to score two runs. Seattle poured it on. Robinson Cano drew a walk and Kyle Seager doubled on high chopper over Loney just inside the right field line to score two more runs.

“We got a little lucky there,” McClendon said.

Said Rays manager Joe Maddon: “Obviously the hit by Miller was big for them. Grant was throwing the ball well. It really comes down to, more than anything, the pitch selection and pitch execution, I would say execution more than selection. Like I’ve talked about before, any pitch I think is the right pitch to throw in any count if it’s executed properly so I’m not going to bemoan that. Then after that I think the big play is the walk to Bloomquist. That’s the one that kind of gives them a little thing…you’ve got to give them credit there. They’re really grinding out at-bats—they being the Mariners. A lot of balls in play, very difficult on our part just based on their contact.”

But there was nothing lucky about Hernandez’s performance. It was possibly his best outing other than his perfect game, which also came against the Rays.

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He registered at least one strikeout in every inning and struck out the side three times. It was the 21st time in Mariners’ history that a pitcher struck out 15 or more in a game. Randy Johnson accomplished the feat a ridiculous 17 times, Mark Langston twice and Mike Moore once. The 15 strikeouts tied a Tropicana Field record held by James Shields when he was with the Rays and Chris Sale of the White Sox.

strikouts

“I didn’t know it was that many until they told me,” Zunino said. “It was a lot more than I thought, actually.”

The toughest inning was his last. Hernandez gave up a leadoff single to Ben Zobrist. He struck out David DeJesus to tie his career high of 13 strikeouts. Zobrist stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch with Matt Joyce at the plate. Joyce would eventually strike out for the second out of the inning.

With two outs and Escobar and the plate and the non-hitting Jose Molina on deck, McClendon met with Hernandez to discuss strategy. A semi-intentional walk to Escobar could be possible if Hernandez fell behind early in the count. He didn’t. Hernandez struck him out on five pitches, getting swinging strikes on three change-ups.

With his ace at 100 laborious pitches after that inning, McClendon had seen enough.

“He was spent,” McClendon said. “He used everything he had in that seventh inning to get us out of that inning. When you have an emotional inning like that, you are usually going to have a let down that next inning. And I just didn’t want that to happen. I’d seen enough.”

Like always, Hernandez wanted to stay in the game. But he didn’t put up much of a fight.

“He told me that was a stressful inning for you, that’s good enough,” Hernandez said. “And I said, ‘alright, you are the boss.'”

Postgame notes and quotes sheet featuring Maddon, Balfour, Archer, Zunino, McClendon, Jones

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