Ted S. Warren/Associated Press
King Felix now has a crowning achievement.
Felix Hernandez pitched the Seattle Mariners’ first perfect game and the 23rd in baseball history, overpowering the Tampa Bay Rays in a brilliant 1-0 victory Wednesday.
The 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner long has talked of his desire to achieve pitching perfection. He finally accomplished it against the Rays, striking out the side twice and finishing with 12 strikeouts.
It was the third perfect game in baseball this season – a first – joining gems by Chicago’s Philip Humber against the Mariners in April and San Francisco’s Matt Cain versus Houston in June. More than half of all perfectos – 12 – have come in the last 25 seasons.
This also was the sixth no-hitter in the majors this season, three of them at Safeco Field. Humber threw his gem in Seattle, then six Mariners pitchers combined to hold the Los Angeles Dodgers hitless June 8 at the park.
For the Rays, it was an all-too-familiar feeling. This was the third time in four seasons they had a perfect game pitched against them, following efforts by Dallas Braden in 2010 and Mark Buehrle in 2009.
“I don’t have any words to explain this,” Hernandez said to the crowd, speaking on the field after the final out. “I’ve been working so hard to throw one, and (Wednesday) is for you guys.”
Desmond Jennings pinch hit for Jose Lobaton to open the ninth. Hernandez got ahead 1-2 before Jennings fouled off two in a row, and Hernandez fanned him on a 92-mph fastball down in the zone.
Jeff Keppinger batted for Elliot Johnson and grounded out to shortstop on a 1-2 pitch.
With one out to go, Sean Rodriguez got ahead 2-0 in the count. After circling the mound, Hernandez came back with two consecutive breaking balls for strikes and ended perfection with a called third strike on his 113th pitch.
“I went 2-0, and I just took a little walk, took a break, and he called a slider. I had been following him the whole game, so I threw a slider, and he swing,” Hernandez said. “It was a good thing I followed this guy.”
Hernandez (11-5) threw his arms up to the sky and was mobbed by teammates at the pitcher’s mound. He embraced catcher John Jaso for a few seconds, then shared hugs with the rest of his teammates.
“It was in my mind, the whole game; it was in my mind,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez likes to wear his hat crooked to the side – many of his pitches weren’t very straight, either.
The 26-year-old Venezuelan right-hander had the Rays swinging over his sharp curve all afternoon, with Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist and Carlos Peña each striking out in the eighth chasing breaking balls.
With a fastball in the mid-90s and an effective change, Hernandez simply wasn’t hittable. He also wasn’t about to walk anyone.
The Rays seemed to try another technique to disrupt Hernandez, and that also failed. With two outs in the seventh, manager Joe Maddon came out to argue after plate umpire Rob Drake called strike one on a borderline pitch to Matt Joyce. Maddon stuck around for a minute or so to argue, and when he left, Hernandez still was right in rhythm.
“I was yelling at Joe to get ... out of there,” Seattle manager Eric Wedge said.
Riding down in a crowded elevator after the game, Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik jokingly held his cellphone to his ear and said, “No, we’re not trading Felix.”
It was the second no-hitter this season for the Mariners – doubling the franchise’s total entering the year – and third total at Safeco Field after the park went more than a dozen years without one. After Humber’s perfect game, a six-pack of Seattle pitchers tossed a combined no-hitter against the Dodgers in June.
The six no-hitters is two shy of the record set in 1884, one short of the total in each of the 1990 and 1991 seasons.