Wassell: The 5 moments Mariners fans should remember Félix Hernández for
The tone of the discussion around Félix Hernández over his last few years with the Mariners has been decidedly negative, and rightly so. His production dropped off so quickly and it was just plain sad to watch after so many years of dominance.
Félix is no longer a Mariner and in about a month we’ll see him take the mound wearing an Atlanta Braves uniform. This will seem strange and maybe even disturbing to some of us, so before that happens, let’s take a look back at some of the finest moments of Felix’s career in Seattle.
5. New Kid on the Block
Mike Hargrove’s Mariners were well out of the playoff race by August of 2005, and although the team won 93 games in both 2002 and 2003, it had been four years since that magical summer of 2001. Fans were looking for something or someone to provide hope for the future.
A 19-year old Félix Hernández did exactly that.
Sometimes when a rookie has a lot of hype accompanying his debut, it sets up for disappointment. Not in Félix’s case – he was nothing short of dominant right out of the gate. Can you imagine if we had a rookie pitcher on the 2020 team that produced the way Félix did in the summer of 2005? It would be such a wonderful way to lead us right up to Seahawks season, and more importantly give us a glimpse of what could be another sparkling career.
In the chart below, look at how many times he went eight innings in his 12 starts that year. Of course, this would set a trend that saw him rack up lots (maybe too many) of innings on his arm, something that would come back to bite him later.
4. Grand Salami Time
The Mariners brought a 26-49 record into Shea Stadium on June 24, 2008, already 19.5 games back of the AL West lead. By that point, Félix was 6-5 with a 2.87 ERA. Mets fans were no doubt anxious to see what the young phenom had in store for them as he took on their ace, Johan Santana. Félix pitched well but had to leave the game early after he hurt his ankle on a play at the plate. Before that, he stepped into the batter’s box in the second inning with the bases loaded and took Santana deep for what continues to stand as the only home run hit by a Mariners pitcher in team history.
The Mariners won the game 5-2, but because Felix couldn’t finish the fifth inning, guess who took the win that day? Our friend Ryan Rowland-Smith.
3. Félix Stays in Seattle
By February of 2013, speculation about Félix’s future as a Mariner raged on, and most of us thought he’d end up in the same place that every other superstar pitcher seems to – in the Bronx with the New York Yankees. It’s just one of those things that happens with great pitchers on struggling teams. Imagine how delighted we all were when he agreed to a seven-year, $175 million dollar contract to keep him in Seattle.
The best part of the day came when Felix met with the media, tears in his eyes, so happy to remain in the city that he literally grew up in.
“I always say that this is my home. This is my life,” he said.
In retrospect, it’s easy to lament the last few years of that deal, but did you really want to see him walk away to New York? I didn’t think so.
2. Cy Young Award voting changed forever
Give it to the guy with the most wins. Simple, right? While Cy Young Award voting required a little more than just looking at win totals, for generations, that was the stat. Regardless of run support or other factors out of the pitcher’s control, voters tended not to dig much deeper than that. By 2010, baseball analytics had crept their way into the game, but to me, the voting that year came down to common sense.
Félix was the best pitcher in the game and his win-loss record was skewed because his team turned in another disastrous year where they gave him no offensive support. A 13-12 record may not have looked impressive up to that point in history, but with a 2.27 ERA, 240 innings, 232 strikeouts, an average of just 7 hits per nine innings, six complete games and a 1.057 WHIP, voters were forced to take a closer look and shift their thinking as to which stats really determine who the best pitcher is.
In 2010, it was Félix Hernández.
Aug. 15, 2012 was a gorgeous sunny day here in Seattle. I remember because I was on the golf course that afternoon.
I always made it a point to watch Félix’s starts in case of something special, but that day I figured I’d chance it. As the afternoon wore on, it became apparent that something special was about to happen. Félix carried a 1-0 lead over the Tampa Bay Rays into the top of the ninth inning having recorded 11 strikeouts and not yet allowed a base runner. With two out, he needed only to retire Sean Rodriguez to record the 23rd perfect game in Major League Baseball history.
When we think of great baseball moments, most of the time we’re talking about things that occurred in the postseason. Since Félix never had that chance with the Mariners, he took matters into his own hands and had the greatest moment a pitcher can have. A perfect game. His reaction to the final out was also perfect – arms high above, leg in the air like he was the Karate Kid. It was a perfect image that will remain in our memories forever.