If the Baseball Writers Association of America voted today, the Mariners might feature the Cy Young winner and Most Valuable Player. Felix Hernandez (8-1, 1.91) tossed the 11th complete-game shutout of his career and Nelson Cruz bashed his AL-leading 18th home run, a ninth-inning jolt that broke a tie for a 3-0 victory and made for a series sweep over the Tampa Bay Rays Wednesday at Tropicana Field (box score). The Mariners completed their road trip 6-3 and reached .500 (23-23) for the first time since April 12 when they were 3-3.
After Hernandez engaged Tampa starter David Archer (two hits, 12 punch-outs over eight innings) in an as-advertised battle of aces, Rays closer Brad Boxberger came on in the ninth. After Boxberger, a loser Tuesday night when he surrendered a 10th-inning homer to Kyle Seager, fanned Mike Zunino and Austin Jackson, he walked Seth Smith and Robinson Cano. Cruz followed with a bomb that splashed into a shallow pool high above the fence in right center. Tracked at 430 feet by Statcast, the blast was the fourth to reach the tank.
The Mariners managed two hits besides Cruz’s game winner, Smith’s double to right in the first and Logan Morrison’s single to center in the fifth. With Archer nearly untouchable, every Seattle starter fanned at least once, including Jackson, who whiffed four times. The Mariners struck out 14 times, one shy of the season high (April 13 at Dodger Stadium and May 8 against Oakland).
Kyle Seager went 0-for-4 and saw his 12-game hitting streak snapped. The Mariners have homered in six consecutive games and have 32 long balls in May.
Rock bottom of the order: Dustin Ackley and Zunino both went 0-for-3 and fanned twice each. Zunino is “out-hitting” Ackley .181 to .179.
Because of his economy of pitches, Hernandez (101 pitches, 71 for strikes) had plenty left for the ninth, a quick 1-2-3. Hernandez fanned eight with four hits and one walk, and induced a career-high-tying four double plays (also July 22, 2011 at Boston).
Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon on Hernandez: “What a performance. I don’t know what to say about the guy. Felix goes out and gets us a complete-game shutout. Just an outstanding outing.”
McClendon on Archer: “I can’t say enough about their young starter. He was tremendous. He had it all going and, needless to say, I was happy to see him leave the game.”
Cruz: “I wasn’t sure the ball was going out. I just got a pitch to hit (Boxberger left it up and over the middle of the plate). It was a great win with Felix on the mound.”
“McClendon: “This one sure lived up to the billing, and a three-run homers makes you feel pretty good. It was an all-around great team performance. We’re starting to hit our stride.”
The Mariners recorded their first sweep of the Rays since Aug. 7-9, 2006 at Safeco Field. The sweep was Seattle’s first at Tropicana Field since Sept. 18-20, 2000 . . . . The Mariners have won three in a row, five of six and 12 of 18 . . . Seager follow: With a grand slam in the eighth and a game-winning homer in the ninth Tuesday, Seager became the sixth player in franchise history to hit two homers in the eighth inning or later in the same game — Donnie Scott (April 29, 1985 vs. Milwaukee), Jim Presley (April 8, 1986 vs. Californnia), Jay Buhner (Sept. 6, 1992 at Cleveland), Russ Davis (June 1, 1999 vs. Baltimore) and Michael Saunders (April 27, 2012 at Toronto).
The Mariners return to Safeco Field Thursday night (7:10 p.m., PT) to begin an 11-game home stand featuring Cleveland (four games), New York Yankees (3) and Tampa Bay Rays (4). LHP James Paxton (3-2, 3.52) opposes reigning Cy Young winner Corey Kluber (2-5, 3.49).