BY Art Thiel 11:15PM 05/21/2012

Thiel: Darvish bows to Ichiro, King Felix

AL champ Texas Rangers had their swagger checked for a night by Felix Hernandez and a patient approach by the Mariners’ offense to Yu Darvish in a 6-1 triumph Monday.

Jawing with friend and former teammate Adrian Beltre, Felix Hernandez had his way and a fun night at Safeco Field Monday night. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

The Mariners have a “turn back the clock” promotion Saturday celebrating the 1955 Seattle Rainiers’ PCL championship. Monday night, Felix Hernandez and Ichiro got to the clock first.

Hernandez turned it back to 2010, when he won the American League Cy Young Award. Ichiro turned it back to 2001, when he won the AL Most Valuable Player Award.

Yu Darvish and the Rangers simply got clocked — simultaneously undercut and overwhelmed by the two Mariners’ stars in a 6-1 triumph that felt absurdly routine until the realization that this was against the two-time defending AL champs.

Hernandez turned the ferocious lineup into pudding. Rebounding from his worst outing of the season with nearly his best, Hernandez painted a six-hit, seven-strikeout bit of majesty that would have been a shutout but for a solo homer in the eighth inning by No. 9 hitter Mitch Moreland.

Ichiro slapped around his countryman Darvish like an impudent little brother, his triple and single driving in two runs and sending Texas’s prize pitching import to an early shower. He was 3-for-5 against Darvish in the first meeting in Texas, so it seems he is dialed in already to the touted newcomer.

For a game, Ichiro also was dialed in as the No. 3 hitter he’s been designated.

“Ichiro had a good night,” said Mariners manager Eric Wedge, who has been openly critical of Ichiro’s paltry run production. “It was nice to see those RBIs.”

As with his teammates, Ichiro waited on Darvish to get his remarkable variety of pitches and speeds into the strike zone. He didn’t do it often — six walks in four innings that required 96 pitches — and when he did, the Mariners seized the moment, spoiling the heralded match-up of aces.

“Tonight was Felix’s night, it wasn’t Darvish’s,” said Rangers manager Ron Washington. “I let him know that we wouldn’t be sending him out after the fourth inning; it was a lot of pitches in a short amount of time.

“You just need to take it, move on and learn what you can. He apologized; he expected more, but I told him he didn’t have to apologize.”

Darvish’s inability to locate consistently was on display with the first two batters. He struck out leadoff hitter Dustin Ackley on three pitches, then walked Michael Saunders on four pitches.The third batter, Ichiro, ripped a fastball over the first base bag that scooted up against the low, padded fence along right field and stopped cold.

The freakish non-bounce allowed Saunders to score and Ichiro to make it to third standing up.  The way Hernandez was pitching, the one run nearly was enough, although few who saw his last outing would have imagined it — eight runs on 10 hits in 3.2 innings in a 9-3 loss to Cleveland.

Wedge said before the game he was confident of a rebound performance. Hernandez’s wicked sinker returned, apparently the product of a bullpen session between starts.

“Last game I was up in the middle of the zone,” he said. “I worked on keeping the ball down this time. My plan was to attack, attack, throw strikes.”

That he did — 72 strikes in 111 pitches through eight innings. It included two strikeouts of Josh Hamilton, baseball’s best hitter who came in with a .389 average and went 0-for-4, a feeble whiff that had Hernandez thrusting his fist and the modest gathering of 18,726 slapping palms.

“He’s a really hot hitter,” said Hernandez, then broke into a big smile. “That was pretty good.”

For Hernandez, it was his sixth start of at least seven innings allowing one earned run or less, which leads the major leagues, and ended his four-game losing streak against the Rangers. He was 0-4 with a 5.04 ERA last year against Texas.

Felix so enjoyed the upper hand the he playfully trash-talked with former teammate Adrian Beltre during the game. After the Texas third baseman grounded out to end an inning, the pair could be seen exchanging verbal jabs.

“He said, ‘Throw your fastball straight,'” Hernandez recalled, laughing. “I said, ‘I did, you just can’t hit it.’

“He’s crazy. I’m crazy.”

On the other side of team, the hitters were all about serenity. The impatient hacks that were a large part of the early futility have begun to fade. The offense has averaged 6.5 runs in the last four games.

“These guys are taking a lot of pride in getting better,” Wedge said after the club tied its season-best four-game win streak. “We’re seeing a team mature before our very eyes.”

The Mariners’ clock, it would seem, is moving forward.


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