By Kirby Arnold Herald Writer
SEATTLE — If there were a consolation category for pitchers with no-decisions in the Cy Young contest, Felix Hernandez would be the hands-down winner.
The Seattle Mariners’ ace produced another gem Tuesday night, holding the L.A. Angels to three hits over seven shutout innings in what became a no-decision because the offense went seven scoreless itself.
By the time Hernandez had taken a seat — with a 1.92 ERA in his nine no-decisions this season — the hitters got off theirs to beat the Angels 3-1.
The Mariners scored three runs in the eighth inning when Michael Saunders hit a sacrifice fly to tie the score, followed by RBI singles from Adam Moore and Josh Wilson.
Hernandez had thrown just 104 pitches through seven innings but, keeping the Mariners’ protection plan in place concerning their prized right-hander, manager Daren Brown decided not to send him out in the eighth.
“I thought that was enough,” Brown said. “He did his job and I thought he was outstanding. I know he was working on six days rest, but he threw 122 pitches his last time out. A couple of innings, he was working hard to get out of the inning.”
Brown pays close attention to “stressful” innings for a pitcher, and none were more stressful for Hernandez than the first three.
He went 1-2-3 to start the game although the first hitter, Alberto Callaspo, knocked Hernandez onto the seat of his pants with a line drive that he caught near his face.
“That was close, real close,” Hernandez said. “It might have hit me in the nose or my mouth.”
He got the next two outs but pitched in peril in the second and third innings, working with runners in scoring position both times with less than two outs. After escaping those jams, Hernandez found his rhythm and retired 12 of the final 14 hitters he faced.
Didn’t matter. Brown replaced him in the eighth with right-hander Brandon League.
“We’re not going to stray away from the big picture,” Brown said. “Felix understood, but he’s a competitor and he wanted to go back out.”
Hernandez did put up his usual mild protest to keep pitching, especially with the game still undecided.
“I was strong. I wanted one more inning,” he said. “I said, ‘Come on. One more, please.’ ”
Instead, he took a seat with his first no-decision in six outstanding starts in August, when he didn’t pitch less than 62⁄3 innings in any of them and finished the month with a 0.82 ERA.
It left him with a 2.38 ERA for the season, second-lowest in the American League behind the 2.21 of Clay Buchholz of the Red Sox. The Cy Young problem for Hernandez is his record — he’s 10-10 and Buchholz is 15-5.
“Felix should have won that game,” Saunders said. “He’s so consistent. He did his job tonight and we did ours. We just did it a little too late to get him the win.”
The Angels tagged League with doubles by Callaspo and Howie Kendrick to score the first run of the game in the eighth inning.
But the Mariners, who’d managed seven hits and two walks but nothing across the plate in seven innings against Angels starter Dan Haren, broke through themselves in the eighth.
Against right-hander Kevin Jepsen, Russell Branyan drew a one-out walk before Jose Lopez singled and Casey Kotchman walked. Saunders hit a deep fly to right field that scored Matt Tuiasosopo, pinch-running for Branyan, and tied the score 1-1.
Moore followed with a broken-bat bloop single to center to score Lopez and Josh Wilson singled to center off reliever Francisco Rodriguez, scoring Kotchman for a 3-1 Mariners lead.
David Aardsma pitched the ninth for the Mariners and promptly walked the first hitter he faced, Hideki Matsui. But Aardsma followed that by getting Mike Napoli to hit into a double play, then Erick Aybar on a fly to left that ended the game. It was Aardsma’s 26th save.
The Mariners won for just the seventh time this season when they trailed after seven innings.
Had they rallied any earlier, Hernandez would have a winning record for the first time since he was 7-6 on July 15. The team victory, however, was good enough for him.
“I did my part and gave the team a chance to win the game,” he said.
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog