It’s almost become as much of an opening day tradition as the decorative bunting that the stadiums like to put up for the first game of the season.
Hernandez pitched 72⁄3 shutout innings, allowing just three hits, while striking out eight and walking just one to lead the Mariners to a 2-0 win over the Oakland A’s.
Seattle has now won seven straight opening day games — not coincidentally Hernandez has made six of those starts.
For five of the last six seasons, the A’s have had the unfortunate pleasure of having to face Hernandez to start the season. And in those five starts, Hernandez has pitched 391⁄3 innings, giving up a total of six runs for a 1.37 earned run average. He’s also struck 35 A’s batters in those starts. He’s also now 3-0.
It seems almost unfair.
“Felix pitched a great game,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “He’s a special pitcher. He really set the tone for us tonight.”
Hernandez set the tone for the organization in the offseason, choosing to sign a 7-year, $175 million contract and stay the face of the franchise instead of heading elsewhere in a few years.
He made sure his first official start after signing that monster contract didn’t disappoint.
“It feels good,” Hernandez said. “I was hoping to start the season the right way. To get a win, it’s pretty good. It felt really special.”
In front of a sold out crowd of 36,067, most of whom booed him loudly during pregame introductions, Hernandez silenced them for the better part of seven innings.
“Well, they did boo me,” he said.
He didn’t allow a hit for the first three innings. The first hit came in the bottom of the fourth inning when John Jaso — his former catcher, who Hernandez had given a Rolex watch in pregame for catching his perfect game last season — doubled to the left-center gap.
“He was pretty excited to face me up,” Hernandez said. “And then he broke up the no-hitter.”
Hernandez said he wouldn’t ask for the watch back.
“I should have said, ‘What time is it?’ to him,” Hernandez joked.
Jaso advanced to third on a ground ball to first base from Josh Reddick. It looked like the A’s might finally get to Hernandez as Yoenis Cespedes hit a hard ground ball up the middle that seemed like a sure base hit.
But shortstop Brendan Ryan came from nowhere to grab the ball well behind second base, spin and fire to first to get Cespedes to end the inning.
“Oh man, you know that guy, he’s one of the best out there,” Hernandez said of Ryan..
Ryan has made the play a thousand times, and makes it look so routine. It isn’t.
“I just want to make sure I catch it,” he said. “Once I caught it, it was find (first baseman Justin Smoak) and make the best throw I can. Once I released it, I knew we were OK.”
But it was Ryan’s bat — yes, his bat — which helped set up the Mariners only run.
In the top of the fifth, Dustin Ackley drew a one-out walk from A’s starter Brett Anderson, who had been pretty tough up to that point. Ryan followed with a soft single to right-center. Ackley saw the ball wasn’t going to be caught and was able to advance from first to third, sliding in just ahead of the tag from Josh Donaldson. Ryan advanced to second on the throw.
“Great read by Ackley, and great job by Brendan by following his lead,” Wedge said.
With runners on second and third with one out, Franklin Gutierrez drove in the game’s only runs, lacing a hard single up the middle on a 3-2 slider.
“I was just trying to stay up the middle of the field,” Gutierrez said. “He made a mistake and normally a big league hitter doesn’t miss mistakes.”
Given up a 2-0 lead, Hernandez cruised until the eighth inning. After getting two quick outs, he gave up a two-out double to Seth Smith and then walked Eric Sogard. Wedge had seen enough at 109 pitches. He brought in Charlie Furbush to face Coco Crisp. Furbush loaded the bases. Wedge then called on Stephen Pryor, who was able to get pinch hitter Derek Norris to ground out to end the inning.
“I like that situation,” Pryor said. “I like the pressure. I’m just glad I got called on to go in there.”
Tom Wilhelmsen came on to pitch the ninth to secure the win for Hernandez and get his first save.
The Mariners revamped offense managed just five hits in the game and struck out 11 times. But when you have Hernandez on the mound, two runs can be plenty.
“That’s Felix for you,” Ryan said. “We are awfully glad he’s on our side.”
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