4.11.2007

Felix passes big test

Ladies and gentleman, a legend has been born: King Felix officially has been crowned.

If this were a test in my classroom and I gave such grades, Felix Hernandez would have earned an A+++++++++++++ for what he did to the Boston Red Sox tonight.

Forget about Dice-K or Ichiro. This night was all about Felix and his re-introduction to the American consciousness. It's almost as if the baseball public forgot about him a bit after he followed up his crazy August call up of two summers ago with last season's up-and-down campaign.

Well, consider Hernandez forgotten no longer, as he cemented himself as a bona fide No. 1 starter, something these parts haven't seen since Randy Johnson prowled the mound in the Kingdome. He did what all No. 1s are supposed to do: He dominated the opposition to give his team an opportunity to stop a losing streak.

The fact that Hernandez only allowed one hit all night will get all the play, but it's how he limited the Red Sox to their one hit that is most impressive. Although Americans always will be obsessed with strike outs, the best pitchers in baseball history haven't traditionally been those whose success consistently rides on overpowering hitters. (Pitchers such as Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens and Johnson are the exception, not the norm.)

Felix is no different -- he's at his best when he's pitching to contact, and that's exactly what he did tonight. I think it was about the sixth or seventh inning before the Red Sox even got a ball out of the infield. That's how you keep pitch counts down and go deep into ballgames, saving your team's bullpen for the nights when guys like Jarrod Washburn or Horacio Ramirez can only get you through five or six innings.

The most remarkable thing is that Hernandez has pitched 17 innings this year, and he's given up four hits. FOUR. And if J.J. Putz hadn't needed to pitch after a shortened spring training, we'd be talking about Felix's second consecutive complete-game shutout. He's the most dominating pitcher in baseball -- three days after his 21st birthday.

And, like it did against Oakland, the Seattle offense did just enough to make sure Felix's outstanding performance held up. The M's cobbled together nine hits, eight of them off the vaunted Dice-K. (Side note: Ichiro -- he of the contract year -- had none of them and is now batting .222. But we'll get to more of that tomorrow.)

It was awesome to see Jose Vidro finally get a couple of hits; maybe he finally can break the curse of guys coming to Seattle and completely forgetting how to hit. Granted, still no power to speak of, as only doubles by Johjima (2) and Beltre went for extra bases, but again there was some timely hitting.

So here's what we've got: Three wins, all of them close games that hinged on timely hits, and two losses, absolute blowouts. That signifies progress to me. Last year, this team would be 1-5. It's small, but think of that over the span of 15 or 20 games -- that's the difference between say 7-13 and 13-7. And that's a HUGE difference.

Now, we'll see what we can piece together tomorrow. Washburn goes against Tim Wakefield for the chance to win the series. It's still early, but every series win builds just a little confidence and keeps this team moving in the right direction. The matchup is favorable: Wakefield is 0-4 against the Mariners the past three seasons.

Let's keep it rolling.

1 comment:

DrPezz said...

I really look forward to watching Felix pitch this season. As a life-long Mariners fan remembering the promising starts of Bankhead, Holman, Piniero, and others, I just don't want to see a debilitating injury or a collapse.

However, I am much more optimistic when watching Felix because of his power and command of three distinct pitches.

If the bats could churn out some extra base hits now and again as well, the opposition would have to think twice about giving Mariner bats contact pitches and could open up the game for them.

I miss the days of the scoreboard picket fence. When Seattle has shown its most success, the team would manufacture a run in five or six innings with the occassional crooked number thrown into the mix. I used to love seeing the string of ones on the board forcing opposing pitchers to be constantly on-guard, throwing more pitches, and expecting a consistent offensive attack.

Let's hope the offense can produce 4-6 runs consistently. I think this to be a key for the season.