BY John Hickey 10:38AM 05/07/2011

Hickey: There’s no one like Felix

Another gem from the King illustrates mastery of four pitches. Even M’s pitching coach Carl Willis admits to learning from him.

Felix Hernandez continued to add to his legend with a dominating performance Friday that had everyone signing his praises. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Some would say it’s an exaggeration to suggest there’s only two kinds of pitchers in the major leagues – Felix Hernandez and everybody else. It doesn’t seem that much of a stretch.

He’s 24. He has one Cy Young Award. He has a huge five-year, $78 million contract that links him to the Mariners through 2014. And he throws most every pitch this side of the knuckleball.

Friday night saw Hernandez grind out a 3-2 win over the Chicago White Sox. After the game, Seattle pitching coach Carl Willis tried to explain what makes Felix Felix.

“It’s a lot of fun working with him,’’ Willis said after Hernandez allowed five hits and two runs in his second complete game of the season. “I’ve been around a lot, and he’s different.

“I don’t know if there is anybody who can think about the game like he does. When he’s out there, he’s got so many weapons.’’

Let’s look at the arsenal:

Fastball: 95 mph plus, with explosive movement through the strike zone.

Curve: A  12-to-6 top-to-bottom breaker that fractures bats.

Changeup: Thrown with the same motion of the fastball, but about 14 mph slower.

Slider: A nasty break that buckles knees.

None is a secondary pitch. All are legitimate threats that any pitcher would be happy to have as a primary weapon.

Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen, a huge fan of Hernandez’s, put it like this: “When you go against Felix, you know you are going against one of the best in the game. You know it’s not going to be easy.”

Willis then added something fresh.

“I’m his coach, and I’m learning from him,’’ Willis said.  “We all are learning from him, just watching what he does every time he goes out there. He is that special.’’

For all of that, Friday had a chance to be a difficult night for Hernandez. Chicago pitcher Phil Humber was at the top of his game.Mariner bats weren’t doing much. The White Sox got a cheap run in the fourth inning aided by a defensive lapse by Jack Wilson when the second baseman didn’t cover first base on a bunt.

The run stood until the sixth, when Ichiro Suzuki got the Mariners going with a walk. A bunt moved Ichiro to second, and a Milton Bradley double tied the game. Moments later, a Justin Smoak double gave the Mariners the lead.

In the seventh, Hernandez said he “hung a bad slider’’ at the White Sox’s Carlos Quentin hit for a game-tying solo home. But that was it for the White Sox, thanks in part to some alert defense by shortstop Brendan Ryan, who trapped base runner Gordon Beckham off third base for the inning’s second out.

Hernandez left tied after eight replaced by closer Brandon League. It remained to see if Seattle’s hitters could get the ace his fourth win.

They could. With one out, Jack Cust and Wilson singled. After  Adam Kennedy took over for Cust as a pinch-runner, a deep fly by Michel Saunders enabled Kennedy to get to third.

That brought up Ryan, who had just one night earlier been in an 0-for-21 slide. He doubled Thursday, and doubled earlier in the game Friday. This time, facing with ex-Mariner left-hander Matt Thornton, he slapped a bullet grounder up the middle past diving second baseman Beckham.

It was a coin toss whether Ichiro, standing in the on-deck circle, or Hernandez, standing on the top step of the dugout, would get to Ryan at first base to start the celebrating. Ichiro is faster, but Hernandez had the better angle. He hoisted Ryan off his feet as the Mariners celebrated their second walkoff win of the season.

“I had a pretty good eagle-eye view of the (celebratory) huddle,’’ Ryan said. “It was OK by me. I would have taken a bloody nose if it had taken that. It was a fun game to win.’’

Hernandez said Ryan’s earlier move to trap Beckham off third base “was the key to the game.’’

Ryan didn’t see it that way.

“I just had to catch the ball,’’ Ryan said. “After that, (Beckham) was in no-man’s land. It was Felix who did all the hard work tonight.’’

He made it look easy, the way the great ones always do.

Twitter: @JHickey3


  • Pharmening

    Ah! The Big Unit has already told Felix what he should do. I trust that Felix was all ears when the unit spoke to him of that a couple months ago. He’ll get it done.