By John Boyle
In case you hadn’t heard already, Felix Hernandez was pretty good on Wednesday. Like, he-threw-a-perfect-game-and-struck-out-12 good. So yeah, it was a pretty fun day at the ballpark. But don’t take my word on it, just ask Hernandez’ teammates about what he did today.
Hernandez, always one quick to praise his teammates, tried to give credit to catcher John Jaso, but Jaso quickly quipped, “All I had to do was catch it.”
Like so many others who have seen Hernandez pitch, Jaso figured Hernandez would make history at some point.
“It almost seems like a matter of time until it happens. This game is weird, a little dribbler here and it’s ruined, but his competitive attitude and his competitive mind that he brings every time he pitches, you know you’ve got a guy that’s going to give you a chance to win… This guys deserved the odds to fall in his favor, for sure.”
Jaso added that Hernandez’ “Changeup was going good against righties and lefties today, and everything was working. I don’t think we used a curveball that much against the Yankees, but today it was just nasty. Everything was working today. You throw any lineup out there and you’re getting close to the same lineup today.
To which Hernandez said, “Thank you, man.”
Right fielder Eric Thames had a funny way of describing Hernandez’ final pitch, “Whatever that pitch is that he throws, that 92, fastball, changeup thing, I’m glad he’s on my team.”
For the record, Hernandez called that pitch a changeup, but the fact that no one quite knew what to make of that 92-mph pitch with crazy movement—three sportswriters after the game were discussing it, and one called it a fastball, one voted changeup and one said slider—shows just how nasty of stuff Hernandez had.
Brendan Ryan, who scored the game’s only run, said, “What a guy. One of the most humble stars in the game. I’m very proud of him, very happy for him.
“This is his home, he doesn’t hide that. I don’t mean to say anything about other stars in the game, but he’s just so humble and down to earth, that’s what fans can relate to. He’s approachable and looks you in the eye and all that stuff, and he goes about things the right way. It’s easy to pull for somebody like that. Then for him to be as talented as he is and be our captain, you’re kind of fighting back tears as it came to a close there at the end.”
Ryan made one of the plays that helped keep the perfecto alive, fielding a grounder behind a diving Kyle Seager to throw out BJ Upton in the seventh. Upton hit what was a fairly routine grounder, but the degree of difficulty went up quite a bit because Seager was diving past Ryan. Had Seager gotten a piece of it with his glove, history might have had to wait, but once the ball got cleanly past Seager, Ryan said it wasn’t too difficult of a play.
“Only because Kyle got in the way,” Ryan joked. “You can’t blame anybody. He wants to make sure the ball doesn’t get through, so he wants to give it his best effort. The way we were playing it, I want Ack taking everything away to his right, I’m going to take everything away from my right, and Kyle’s got to take everything away to his right. If Upton is going to beat us, we want him to have to beat us in the four hole.
“If he deflects it, I’m not going to have a play, so I just treat it like there’s going to be no deflection, so it doesn’t play as big of a distraction as it could. Once it got past him, it’s a pretty routine play.”
Said manager Eric Wedge: “He was special. You could tell early on that he had special stuff. Felix is consistently so good, when he does take it up to another level—which we’ve seen him do multiple times over the course of the year—you just never know how it’s going to play out. Today was just one of those special days, and it was great to see him finish it off.”
“The intangibles for me are what separates him. No doubt about it he has great talent—a lot of players at this level have great talent—but the intangibles, the teammate that he is, the leadership he brings, the toughness and the consistency, that’s what separates him.”
Wedge also had a funny comment on Rays manager Joe Maddon getting thrown out, then arguing for a while in the seventh in a move that felt a lot like a stall tactic. “I’m sure he was, but Felix overcame it. I was just yelling at Joe to just get his ass out of there so he could go back to pitching.”
And from Trayvon Robinson, who as the left fielder was closest to the rowdy King’s Court section, “It was unbelievable. The energy, it was priceless. Priceless, man.”
As for the man of the hour, Hernandez has never been shy about wanting to throw a perfect game, and said watching the Mariners be on the receiving end of one earlier this year only motivated him:
“It’s always on my mind. Every game, ‘I need to throw a perfect game.’ For every pitcher, it’s on his mind, but today it happened, and it’s something special. I don’t have any words to explain this. This is pretty amazing, it doesn’t happen every day.”
And Hernandez said it didn’t take long for him to figure out that he might be heading towards a good day: “When I was warming up in the bullpen, I thought I had pretty good stuff. In the third, I was like, ‘There’s something going on right now.’ We threw like five breaking balls in a row and they couldn’t hit them.”