By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
SAN DIEGO — This time Felix Hernandez got the win.
On the four-year anniversary of his historic grand slam off of all-star pitcher Johan Santana at the now demolished Shea Stadium, Hernandez came up big at the plate again on Saturday night.
His two-run double in the second inning was the highlight of another solid offensive showing from the Seattle Mariners.
But unlike that magical night four years ago, when he left the game with a severely sprained ankle, Hernandez not only got the game-winning hit, but he also got the win.
Hernandez pitched seven innings, allowing just one run on six hits, while striking out 10 and walking just one to help the Mariners end a four-game losing streak against the Padres with a 5-1 win at Petco Park.
“Felix stepped up tonight and we needed him to,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “Our starters have been struggling and he’s our guy and we really needed him to step up tonight and he did. And get got a big hit for us.”
It was Hernandez’s first win since May 21st.
Much like back in 2008, it was the first at-bat of the season for Hernandez. And of course like he did against Santana, he swung at the first pitch.
Padres’ starter Jason Marquis made the same mistake Santana did in 2008 and left a fastball up in the zone. This time instead of ripping a ball over the fence, which would have been impossible for anyone at Petco on Saturday night, Hernandez lashed a ball down the right field line, scoring Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley.
His approach was simple.
“I was going to swing at the first pitch,” he said. “I knew it was a fastball. Try and hit it good.”
Wedge was a little surprised that Hernandez didn’t run right away.
“I’m not sure what the hell he was doing,” Wedge said “Maybe he thought it might have gone foul or maybe he was surprised he did hit it. I was a little nervous when he was hustling to second base there. I’m sure everybody was. But he got there safe and without injury.”
Of course, Hernandez had a reason why. For as much as he brags about his hitting exploits, he was a little stunned.
“I was like, what? That’s a double,” he said. “I was trying to be fast.”
While his double gave the Mariners a 3-1 lead, it also seemed to inspire Hernandez.
He was a little up in the zone in the first inning giving up a pair singles and then balking in a run.
But after his big hit, Hernandez locked in and was basically untouchable, holding the Padres scoreless over the next six innings and striking out nine batters.
The drama got a little more delicious in the eighth inning when it appeared Hernandez might have an outside chance to get another grand slam on the anniversary.
With two outs, Padres reliever Brad Brach walked Brendan Ryan to load the bases with Hernandez due to come to the plate. But Hernandez never got his chance for another one. Instead, Wedge opted to pinch hit with John Jaso ending Hernandez’s night. Jaso grounded out to second to end the inning.
There was no thought of letting Hernandez hit.
“No, we’ve got to try to add on right there,” Wedge said. “He’s at 94 pitches, he’s only going to pitch one more inning anyway. He was most definitely going to go back out there if he didn’t get up there, but Jaso has done such a nice job for us in that role. And he smoked it. But the kid made a nice play. We were probably a foot away from scoring two more runs, which is a completely different ballgame.”
Wedge figured Hernandez might lobby to hit and never allowed his starter to do so.
“I didn’t even look at him,” Wedge said. “I didn’t give him a chance to remind me. I saw him peeking over his shoulder when he was on deck and I didn’t look at him then either. I wasn’t going to give him any indication.”
But Hernandez wouldn’t have argued to stay in.
“No, no, no,” he said about wanting to stay in the game. “I just wanted to win today. I don’t care about hitting, I just want to win the game.”
Hernandez wasn’t the only player to provide offense. Michael Saunders, fresh off a few days off, had two hits and scored two runs, including a solo home run off the right field foul pole in the third inning.
“He threw a 1-0 cutter that surprised me,” Saunders said. “Typically, Marquis was a heavy sinker guy. I took a bad swing at it. He came back with a 1-1 cutter and I just tried to keep my hands inside of it.”
He hit the ball hard, it was just a matter if it would hook foul.
“I was begging for it to stay fair,” Saunders said. “That’s one when you come back and you are probably striking out in the next couple of pitches. I was trying to blow it fair, praying for it, and it heard the klink and saw it hit the foul pole and was relieved
It was Saunders’ eighth homer of the season, his seventh road home run and sixth solo home run.
Ichiro Suzuki added a RBI single in the fourth to push the lead to 5-1.
It wasn’t all easiness for the Mariners once Hernandez left the game.
Brandon League came on to pitch the eighth inning and found himself with runners on first and second with two outs. But the beleaguered former closer managed to get Carlos Quentin to ground out to second to end the threat.
In the ninth, Tom Wilhelmsen, the new closer, managed to find himself with runners on second and third with one out. But he struck out pinch hitter Jesus Guzman and got John Baker to ground out to end the game.