Outfielder Sam Fuld could have been grinding his teeth after his Tampa Bay Rays lost a 1-0 decision after Felix Hernandez showed his Kingship Wednesday with baseballs third perfect game of the season.
But it would have been little more than screaming into the darkness. Fuld chose to embrace the moment.
Felix and (Detroits Justin) Verlander are the two most dominant pitchers in the league, Fuld said. Just like Verlander, Felix just got stronger as the game went longer. You never want to resign yourself to that, but he was as dominant in the ninth inning as he was in the first.
What’s more, Fuld said the Safeco Field crowd, announced at 21,889, seemed to grow in both size and intensity as the game went on. Seattleites were tweeting to their friends to take off the last couple of hours of work and get down to Safeco Field because something special was in the works.
You could feel the energy he was feeding off of, Fuld said. Its hard to fight that.
The only way the Rays could fight was to do it with words. When Matt Joyce had an outside strike called against him in the seventh inning, manager Joe Maddon came out of the dugout to argue. He was ejected 50 feet before reaching umpire Rob Drake, but chose to linger in Drake’s face for a couple of minutes in an effort to disrupt Hernandez.
It was the large zone against the left-handed hitters I was complaining about, the Tampa Bay manager said. I was not complaining about the right-handed hitters (zone).
The thing with umpires is that its not about punching hitters out. Its about what you make hitters swing at. When you start expanding huge to one side or the other versus a righty or a lefty, then you cause him to swing at pitches they dont normally swing at. And with Felix, you want lefties on him. Lefties hit him a little bit, righties dont hit him at all.
They didnt Wednesday, thats for sure. Hernandez struck out a dozen, getting the side in order in the sixth and eighth innings and getting two strikeouts in the ninth, including freezing No 9 hitter Sean Rodriguez with a change-up for a called third strike to end the game.
He was basically being consistent and keeping it down in the zone, Rodriguez said. He threw anything and everything he wanted and he kept it down. I dont remember seeing him miss even a couple times. Thats always tough. Youve got to tip your cap to him.
From beginning to end, Hernandez had the Rays swinging at pitches they had no hope of hitting.
They knew it.
His stuff was prodigious, Maddon said of Hernandez. When he gets it going, he got the vibe going, and he got us just chasing. We helped him a lot out of the zone, but that also speaks to the movement on his pitches.
The Seattle defense, best in the American League this year statistically, didnt have to do much work to help out.
The closest the Rays were to getting on base was a grounder off the bat of B.J. Upton for the second out of the seventh inning. Third baseman Kyle Seager dove but didn’t come up with it, allowing shortstop Brendan Ryan to make what was basically an average play.
Upton didnt seem to think he came any closer to reaching base than did any of his teammates.
It was a tough day for hitters all around, Upton said of Hernandez, but his stuff is electric. That is just the bottom line. He had it today. Hes a very good pitcher.
Over time, before its over, hes definitely going to go down in the history books.
If there was a secret weapon at work, it might have been the white Capitan Fifi T-shirts the Mariners were wearing under their game jerseys. Felix is depicted in “Captain Morgan” clothing and pose, with his foot on a giant baseball, a gift from assistant trainer Takayoshi Morimoto. The shirts are a tangible reminder that with the departure of Ichiro Suzuki gone, Hernandez is the heart and the soul of the club.
Its easy to pull for someone like him, someone who is a good guy and blue collar, Ryan said. We were all pulling for him, and for him to be our captain, thats special.