BY Art Thiel 12:01AM 08/22/2012

Thiel: Felix throws a perfect party, too

The lust for perfection again was thwarted quickly, but Felix Hernandez had another stellar game, as did his teammates, for their 14th win in the last 15 home games.

In front of 39,204 yellow-clad members of the "Supreme Court," Felix Hernandez cranked it up again Tuesday at Safeco. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Besbol Fiesta.

On a Tuesday night in August: 39,204, dressed in Oregon Duck yellow. On their feet, waving placards and chanting, as if it were the World Cup. Against the Cleveland Indians, fergawdsakes, losers of 24 of their previous 31 games.

Imagine if the 5-1 victory had meant as much in the standings as it did in the heart.

The coronation/adoration/celebration of King Felix the Splendid was in full sway and swoon, even as he left the mound in the eighth inning. Before he departed, he reached over and tapped Brendan Ryan on the head, signaling to him that the easy grounder the sure-handed shortstop just blew was not a big deal.

Nobody’s perfect, he seemed to be saying. Even though the yellow throng that was rising for another, final ovation may have believed otherwise.

“It was a keep-your-chin-up type thing,” said Ryan. “That’s the kind of guy he is.”

The gesture was symbolic of why these last several days in Mariners baseball were among the best in club history. Yes, the perfect game as part of seven consecutive wins is the metric, but the glow is a reflection of the fact that fans and teammates want good things to happen to Felix Hernandez as much as Felix Hernandez wants good things to happen to fans and teammates.

Call it the Dave Niehaus Experience: Celebrating someone so openly sincere about and grateful for his good fortune that it radiates through buildings and over hills.

Hernandez is so genuine, it nearly hurts. How do you not like a ruthless competitor who is nicknamed “Capitan Fifi” by his teammates?

Asked what the last five days have been like for him, Hernandez shook his head.

“No words,” he said, smiling, a little bewildered. Niehaus would have had a thousand words. But that was his job. Hernandez’s job is to pitch well.

Again Tuesday, he pitched well — again. Over his last 12 starts, Hernandez is 8-0 with a 1.53 ERA.

The fantasy distraction was immediately removed by Cleveland’s first hitter, Jason Kipnis, who singled under the glove of diving first baseman Justin Smoak. Whatever pressure Hernandez may have felt to repeat Wednesday’s majesty was gone.

Before the game, manager Eric Wedge betrayed a little concern that the celebration of Hernandez’s feat — including 34,000 free, yellow T-shirts labeled “King of Perfection” — and its impossible duplication were going to be awkward.

“I’m just looking for him to be poised,” Wedge said.  “He rises to certain occasions. There’s lots going on here tonight. I just hope he quiets himself and goes from pitch to pitch; to do nothing more than what we ask any of our starting pitchers — give us a chance to win the ballgame.”

After six other singles and one run in 105 pitches, deed done. Wedge said afterward, “To no one’s surprise, he handled it beautifully.”

As well as he pitched, earlier in the day he also navigated new frontiers of fan affection. Asked by Mitch Levy on his KJR radio show whether he would still be a Mariner after his current contract runs out after the 2014 season, Hernandez said, “You guys will be happy. I’m not going nowhere. Promise.”

Promise? “Promise.”

While such talk needs to be viewed in the context of the feel-goods vibrating around the Mariners at the moment — after all, by 2014 the club may need several second-tier, 18-year-old prospects  — there is nothing in Hernandez’s history or demeanor that suggests he didn’t mean what he said. Because what he also said was, “I think we can win here because we have a lot of young talent going in the right direction.”

Every longtime Mariners fan has a right to hold tightly to his or her cynicism, because it is well-earned, not to be discarded easily. But the fact is that the last 15 games at home have produced 14 wins — the best such stretch in club history — portends hope like the Mariners have not seen in the last several years.

A month ago, it was not obvious to anyone, including Wedge, who was heard to lament  about the “Groundhog Day” repetition of  mistakes by youngsters threatening to ruin a season that already came with few expectations.

But as happens in baseball more than any other sport, maturity and experience begets success, even within a season. Tuesday, a solo home run by newcomer Eric Thames in the fifth inning broke up a no-hitter by the Indians’ Roberto Hernandez, and was followed with a three-run, 438-foot homer in the seventh by Jesus Montero, typified the late-season growth that is dispatching despair.

The change is not yet a threat to baseball’s world order, only to the approach in the clubhouse.

“We’re starting to get that feeling that Wedge has been talking about the last couple of years,” said Ryan, “where we come to the ballpark expecting to win.”

As the tension of the perfect game began to build Wednesday during the day game, eyewitnesses used social media to alert friends to get to Safeco quickly because it felt like history in the making. The Mariners estimated that about 200 people were late-inning arrivals. Those that could not get away showed up Wednesday.

A week ago, the pre-sale of tickets for the game was about 11,900. So about 28,000 decided they had to salute the king.

“What he did last week was very significant for the franchise, and the fans most importantly,” Wedge said.  “In this ballpark, in that setting, was pretty special stuff.”

Then came the encore. At 24-13, the Mariners have the best record in the American League since the All-Star break.

”It was pretty amazing,” Hernandez said. ”This was something special.”

Around the Mariners, things have changed.


YourThoughts

  • Jamo57

    I”m impressed with how nimble the Ms marketing department was in leveraging the opportunity Felix provided them with his perfect game last week, and how they were able to create an ‘event’ that turned a 14,000 person crowd into a 40,000 person throng.   In fact, the excitement created was so great that the crowd began arriving mid afternoon from what I understand and there was already a line forming before 3 PM.   And we all know the Port doesn’t close until 4:30.

    So one has to conclude that the concern the Ms have for the Port and the area manufacturers really isn’t all that deeply rooted.   Or really doesn’t exist at all.   And for this observer it just serves to weaken their obstructionist argument against a SoDo arena even further.   If SoDo is such a bad location, why did the Ms choose it in the first place?   Are they just hoping to delay an arena long enough so it is a future owner’s problem?

    Before the Titans-Hawks game a buddy and I were in Sluggers and had a brief conversation with our server.   The reality is 6 days a week they are deserted from September to January, and from January to April it’s a ghost town 7 days a week.  In short, an arena would help the area sustain itself year round as far as the restaurants and bars go.

    I’m glad the Ms had their night and hopefully the team is rounding in to form and is truely on the upswing.   My baseball roots go back the furthest in my personal sports history so an actual pennant race would be welcome.    But there are a lot of hoops and hockey fans sitting on the sidelines feeling like the Ms ownership and senior management is depriving them of similar exciting moments unique to their sports.

    Knowing that makes it really difficult to get ‘lost in the moment’ as a baseball fan,  and one has to wonder if the Ms are simply an opportunistic corporate entertainment provider.   One that wants to keep all the special moments to themselves, as few and far between as they have been lately.

    • Artthiel

      Remember that the Mariners picked the site in 1996, and the port objected then, as they did to the Kingdome in 1972. Both times they were correct in that each project added congestion because city business and port traffic have grown every year. We keep asking more and more of the same square mile of ground.

      They call this area a transportation hub. Well, next time you get a chance, take a look at a wheel. The hub moves more slowly than than the tire. 

  • Jamo57

    I”m impressed with how nimble the Ms marketing department was in leveraging the opportunity Felix provided them with his perfect game last week, and how they were able to create an ‘event’ that turned a 14,000 person crowd into a 40,000 person throng.   In fact, the excitement created was so great that the crowd began arriving mid afternoon from what I understand and there was already a line forming before 3 PM.   And we all know the Port doesn’t close until 4:30.

    So one has to conclude that the concern the Ms have for the Port and the area manufacturers really isn’t all that deeply rooted.   Or really doesn’t exist at all.   And for this observer it just serves to weaken their obstructionist argument against a SoDo arena even further.   If SoDo is such a bad location, why did the Ms choose it in the first place?   Are they just hoping to delay an arena long enough so it is a future owner’s problem?

    Before the Titans-Hawks game a buddy and I were in Sluggers and had a brief conversation with our server.   The reality is 6 days a week they are deserted from September to January, and from January to April it’s a ghost town 7 days a week.  In short, an arena would help the area sustain itself year round as far as the restaurants and bars go.

    I’m glad the Ms had their night and hopefully the team is rounding in to form and is truely on the upswing.   My baseball roots go back the furthest in my personal sports history so an actual pennant race would be welcome.    But there are a lot of hoops and hockey fans sitting on the sidelines feeling like the Ms ownership and senior management is depriving them of similar exciting moments unique to their sports.

    Knowing that makes it really difficult to get ‘lost in the moment’ as a baseball fan,  and one has to wonder if the Ms are simply an opportunistic corporate entertainment provider.   One that wants to keep all the special moments to themselves, as few and far between as they have been lately.

    • Artthiel

      Remember that the Mariners picked the site in 1996, and the port objected then, as they did to the Kingdome in 1972. Both times they were correct in that each project added congestion because city business and port traffic have grown every year. We keep asking more and more of the same square mile of ground.

      They call this area a transportation hub. Well, next time you get a chance, take a look at a wheel. The hub moves more slowly than than the tire. 

  • grover

    The M’s pitching since the All-Star break has been unbelievable.  Does anyone believe this is a reflection of the actual talent on the M’s pitching staff, or just some inexplicable run of an entire team pitching well over its head?  Even Felix, at 1.53 ERA over his last 12 starts can’t do that over an entire season (his season ERA is about 2.50, which is great, but not close to 1.53).

    Strange things happen in baseball, and the M’s winning percentage since the All-Star break is one of those strange things.  The M’s pitching staff, outside of Felix, is really very ordinary, at best.  But, they continue to pitch like they are the best staff in the AL.  Just sort of bizarre, especially if it continues much longer.

    • Artthiel

       Felix and Vargas are legit as two of the top 10 in the AL, and the others are pitching above expectations. That is often enough to make a team post-season competitive, but the margin is so thin because of the previously poor offense.. Beavan has a future in the rotation, but Iwakuma and Millwood are placeholders for two minor league guns. Hard to believe, but the Pineda deal has had a substantive first-year payoff.

  • grover

    The M’s pitching since the All-Star break has been unbelievable.  Does anyone believe this is a reflection of the actual talent on the M’s pitching staff, or just some inexplicable run of an entire team pitching well over its head?  Even Felix, at 1.53 ERA over his last 12 starts can’t do that over an entire season (his season ERA is about 2.50, which is great, but not close to 1.53).

    Strange things happen in baseball, and the M’s winning percentage since the All-Star break is one of those strange things.  The M’s pitching staff, outside of Felix, is really very ordinary, at best.  But, they continue to pitch like they are the best staff in the AL.  Just sort of bizarre, especially if it continues much longer.

    • Artthiel

       Felix and Vargas are legit as two of the top 10 in the AL, and the others are pitching above expectations. That is often enough to make a team post-season competitive, but the margin is so thin because of the previously poor offense.. Beavan has a future in the rotation, but Iwakuma and Millwood are placeholders for two minor league guns. Hard to believe, but the Pineda deal has had a substantive first-year payoff.

  • Michael Kaiser

    I do not know what I would do if the Mariners actually put something together for a season or two.  It would be like the the five years or so starting in the mid-90′s.  I would have to find something else to kick.  The Mariners almost always have been my default.  

  • Michael Kaiser

    I do not know what I would do if the Mariners actually put something together for a season or two.  It would be like the the five years or so starting in the mid-90′s.  I would have to find something else to kick.  The Mariners almost always have been my default.