Felix Hernandez has a lot of teams in his pocket, but perhaps none more than the Tampa Bay Rays. He threw a perfect game against them, you know. They were also his opponent when he set his high water mark for most strikeouts in a single game. And now, today, a complete game shutout. He’ll face them again in a week and a half, you know.
On a day when Chris Archer was actually outpitching the King, the Mariners simply waited for a chance against someone else before going for the win. The unlucky pitcher was once again Brad Boxberger, who’s probably as pleased as anyone to see the Mariners out of town. Felix has the Rays’ number, the Mariners have Boxberger’s number. Works out nicely, for the Mariners.
Archer really did just about outduel the King – eight innings, twelve strikeouts, two hits, no walks. He had all his pitches working for him and made the M’s batters look like fools all day. It was a flashy day from a talented kid who’s quickly becoming one of the AL’s best pitchers. The M’s couldn’t overcome him, but with Felix locked in, they chose instead to outlast.
Felix took a different approach for much of the game, leaning on ground ball outs to produce a ton of twin killings. After a single and a walk in the second, Felix got out of things with a DP. In the third it went out, single, double play. The first two outs of the fifth came on a single and a double play grounder. The sixth featured a single, hit batter, and inning-ending double play. It’s like all the hits Felix allowed were intentional or something.
The King kept his pitch count low, and ended the day with eight strikeouts on 101 pitches. He was running a crazy low pitch count thanks to all the double play balls and weak contact, and then stepped it up to strike out five batters in the last three innings. It was a masterful performance, and one that lowered his ERA to 1.91.
The game wasn’t won until the top of the ninth, when Boxberger came in to relieve Archer. He struck out Mike Zunino and Austin Jackson, but then issued full count walks to Seth Smith and Robinson Cano. Up came Nelson Cruz, who blasted a ball over the fence in deep center and into the literal Rays Tank. The fish swam up and examined the ball, and Felix went back out to finish what he started.
With this win, the Mariners improve to 23-23. They’re now in a tie for second in the West with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who are playing San Diego tonight. They’ve got the same winning percentage as the Rays now, and it’s not like Tampa Bay looked like a fundamentally bad team this series or anything. More they looked like a good team getting beat by a similarly good team. Which is what the Mariners are starting to look like more and more each day.
The Mariners needed a sweep to reach .500, just as they have for so many series in a row now. Except this time they got that sweep, and now they’re right back where they started: .500. They just wrapped up a 6-3 road trip, which follows a 6-3 homestand. They’re only a game and a half back of the New York Yankees, who currently hold the second wild card. Funny what a sweep can do for you.
Felix Hernandez and Nelson Cruz led the way today, as they have all season long. After a tense, hold-your-breath road trip, the Mariners can now look around and say hey, we’re getting to where we want to be. .500 isn’t the end goal. It was never the end goal. Now that they’re here, there should be no looking back. There probably won’t be any looking back. This team is too good for that.
For two months, we’ve been waiting for the 2015 Mariners’ breakthrough moment. They needed to sweep a strong Tampa Bay team, and they did, and now the AL is a lot more flat than it was three days ago. Good job, 2015 Mariners. I’m starting to really like you.