BY Steve Rudman 05:06PM 11/12/2014

Felix loses Cy Young, blame Sept. 23 at Toronto

Felix Hernandez of the Mariners was the favorite to win his second AL Cy Young Award, but one awful inning in Toronto Sept. 23 cost him the trophy.

Felix Hernandez finished second in a close vote for the American League Cy Young award, losing by a 169-159 margin to Corey Kluber of Cleveland. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Had it not been for the fifth inning in Toronto Sept. 23, Felix Hernandez probably would have celebrated his second American League Cy Young award Wednesday. Even with that forgettable fifth, now destined to long remain a painful memory for Hernandez and the Mariners, King Felix seemed a likely winner of baseball’s most prestigious pitching award.

Felix had all the stats. He had better numbers overall than finalists Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians and Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox. Felix also had better numbers than in 2010 when he won his first AL Cy Young. But that fifth inning in Toronto ultimately proved the difference in Kluber winning the Cy by a 10-vote margin, 169 to 159.

I don’t know what to say — that was tough,” Hernandez said Wednesday afternoon at a Safeco Field press conference that was less celebratory than expected. “I was a little disappointed, but it will just give me more motivation to work harder and just be better next year.”

A four-year vet, Kluber amassed 17-first-place votes while Hernandez received 13. Sale finished a distant third with 78 points.

This is the second time Hernandez finished second in the Cy Young vote, and it came after a season that Hernandez described Wednesday as “the best overall” of his career.

In so many ways, it was. King Felix went 15-6 with a 2.14 ERA in 34 outings (27 quality starts), including a 1.66 ERA in six September starts. He claimed his second AL ERA title with the lowest single-season mark in Mariners history, edging Sale’s 2.17. That’s also the lowest in the AL since Pedro Martinez recorded a 1.74 in 2000.

He led the AL in WHIP at 0.915, lowest in the AL since Martinez had a 0.737 in 2000. He led the AL in opponent batting average (.200), finished second in innings (236), second in opponent on-base percentage (.243), second in WAR for pitchers (6.8), fourth in strikeouts (248), fifth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.39) and fifth in strikeouts per nine (9.46).

The .243 opponent OBP is the third-lowest by an AL pitcher in the designated hitter era (1973). Or go back before the DH. In 1968, Denny McLain won 31 games. That year, McLain took the Cy Young unanimously with the same .243 opponent OBP that Hernandez just recorded.

King Felix allowed two or fewer runs in 25 starts to lead the league (Kluber second with 23), and in 13 no-decisions posted a 1.88 ERA while receiving a 2.09 run-support average.

Perhaps above all, Hernandez established a major league record between May and August of 16 consecutive starts with two or fewer runs allowed in at least seven innings pitched, breaking the mark of 13 by Tom Seaver of the 1971 New York Mets.

But ultimately, King Felix couldn’t erase from the minds of Baseball Writers of Association of America voters what happened Sept. 23, when he entered the fifth inning at Rogers Centre with the Mariners in the thick of the wild card race.

Hernandez carried a 2-1 lead and a streak of 11 consecutive retired batters with him as he took the mound in the fifth. Suddenly, he flipped on a dime, sealing his Cy Young fate.

Wary of walking rookie outfielder Dalton Pompey, Hernandez grooved a 3-1 fastball that Pompey hammered for his first career home run. That tied the game at 2-2 and spurred a seven-run inning in which the Blue Jays sent 13 to the plate. Hernandez didn’t escape the 44-pitch inning until the Mariners turned a double play on Munenori Kawasaki’s soft ground ball.

In the worst of his 2,000-plus career innings spanning a decade, Hernandez was charged with eight runs in the Mariners’ 10-2 loss. That all but killed their wild card chances.

A subsequent scoring change knocked four earned runs off Hernandez’s total, which enabled him to edge Cy Young finalist Sale for the American League ERA title, 2.14 to 2.17.

But the damage was done. The inning stuck in the minds of BBWAA voters, who apparently decided that, in the biggest regular-season game of his career, with a playoff berth on the line, Hernandez not only came up short, but was shelled.

Put another way, Hernandez pitched like a Cy Young winner for 235 innings in 2014. One additional inning, the fifth at Toronto, cost him.

Kluber went 18-9 with a 2.44 ERA in 34 starts and is a deserving Cy winner. He also won his only matchup with Hernandez, July 3o in Cleveland, 2-0. Hernandez allowed two runs over seven innings, but Kubler allowed three hits and no runs over nine.

“He beat me. He had a great year,” said Hernandez. “Sale, Kluber, myself, we all deserved this award. But there’s only one winner. So it’s Kluber.”

Kluber, as well as Sale, trailed Felix in ERA, WAR for pitchers, WHIP, innings, and in all the other important pitching stats. But Kluber never had a single meltdown.

Had Felix “melted” on any other day, or in any inning other than the fifth Sept. 23, his next-to-last start of 2014, he would have won. Hernandez didn’t dwell on that Wednesday.

“It was just one start,” Hernandez said. “What can I say?

“It was a great year for everybody. It was a great year for my teammates, for the coaching staff. I just gotta thank my teammates and the coaching staff. They did a great job. Next year, we are going to be better. It was a great year. We got close, but we didn’t make the playoffs. That’s our goal, just to make the playoffs.

“We’re really close. Guys got more experience. You see (Kyle) Seager, you see (Robinson) Cano. That bullpen is really good. We’re really close. We’re out there. We’re gonna be good. We just got to go compete with everybody.

“I’m going to prepare myself for next year, prepare myself harder. I’m going to be in better shape than I was this year and we’ll see what happens. I can’t wait. I can’t wait. Like I said, man, next year is going to be a great year for the Seattle Mariners.”


  • Big

    Yea, what have you done for me lately may have played a role in the voting. Me thinks a few more team wins on Felix’s side may have swung the vote in his favor. Good season; and next year make the playoffs.

  • 1coolguy

    I cannot believe this – he has the lowest ERA and established the ALL TIME QUALITY START consecutive game record – ALL TIME – and does not get the Cy?
    Frankly I believe this was a vote against the organization (Lincoln) as much as anything. Just shows how little juice the M’s have with the baseball world.
    Sorry Felix – on almost any other team this was yours going away.
    What a travesty!

    • RadioGuy

      Blame the Mariners batters…Lincoln may be a putz, but he’s not putting on a uniform and going 0-for-4 when Felix is pitching every fifth day. On almost any other team, Felix gets some offensive support.

  • rosetta_stoned

    King Felix went 15-6 with a 2.14 ERA in 34 outings (27 quality starts), including a 1.66 ERA in six September starts. He claimed his second AL ERA title with the lowest single-season mark in Mariners history, edging Sale’s 2.17. That’s also the lowest in the majors since Pedro Martinez recorded a 1.74 in 2000.

    Maybe you meant to write American League, because that statement isn’t even close to being factual.

    Kershaw had a 1.77 ERA this season and 1.83 last season.

    • Big

      Oh, you are writing about the National League and this Kershaw player is on the Los Angles Dodgers baseball club. Which means your post has nothing to do with the above story. It’s OK, it was a tough post season for the Dodgers.

      • rosetta_stoned

        You have a great point. I humbly bow down to the Mariners post-season run.

        My point is, it’s not a factual statement. It’s not the lowest ERA in the majors since Pedro in 2000.

        • Big

          Kershaw had a fine season(s). Fact noted.

  • ollie swensen

    IMHO a point that I haven’t seen brought up often is how much the M’s count on Felix to be ON every time. A measure of the added pressure is that he has had to start in situations during bad stretches that if he allows a couple of runs, the M’s are looking at the possibility of a double digit losing streak. It doesn’t make it any easier when Hisashi misses a significant amount of time due to injury and Blake Beavan and Erasmo Ramirez are tasked to start against major league hitting. Looking at it as an M’s issue
    Cleveland has their own issues to consider and weigh. As a team, they did better than most expected.

  • RunningRoy

    Guess what? If Madison Bumgarner gives up eight runs in an inning in Game 7, he’s not the WS MVP. Doesn’t matter how great a season AND unbelievable playoffs he had. A number of close baseball watchers still see Felix as an amazing talent but who’s yet to pitch a postseason inning. So when he had as close to that decisive moment as he got, he couldn’t get it done.

  • jafabian

    Mariner brass should have been touting for Felix as a Cy Young candidate in May. it’s like the Heisman trophy, more than performance gets voters attention. Felix did slide after his amazing Drysdale-like streak but overall he was the best pitcher in the AL, had the best ERA in the AL since Pedro and played for a pennant contender while Kluber didn’t face any pressure all year. Typically the Cy Young award does to the 20 game winner with the best ERA and Kluber is the closest to that. An exception was made for Felix in the past and evidently some couldn’t make that exception again. If Felix had at least 17 wins I think he would have gotten it.