By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
DETROIT — History was not on the side of the Detroit Tigers facing Felix Hernandez on Wednesday — and after a few innings, neither was the math.
Scoring in early bunches, the Seattle Mariners were ahead 6-0 after three innings, and Hernandez overcame his own wildness to beat the Tigers for the ninth time in a row, 9-1.
Easy win? Not in Hernandez’s mind.
“In the first inning, my God, it was a mechanical issue,” Hernandez said. “I couldn’t throw strikes. I didn’t have the changeup, the curve or the slider I had my last two starts.”
Which led him to three first-inning walks.
“I don’t remember the last time I had an inning like that,” he said.
How close was he to being hurt by the Tigers? With one out, third baseman Miguel Cabrera hit a hanging slider that Hernandez — and most everyone else in Comerica Park — thought was gone.
Left fielder Casper Wells got it on the warning track.
“I got lucky,” Hernandez said. “When he hit it, I was like ‘No!’ It was not a good slider.”
Somehow, he got through the first inning with a 1-0 lead catcher Jesus Montero produced with the first of three hits, driving in leadoff hitter for the day Dustin Ackley, who also had three hits.
Before Hernandez took the mound in the second inning, the lead was 4-0. By the third inning, 6-0.
“That first hit was big, because you always want to be ahead,” said Montero, whose two RBI left him with a team-high 11. “Felix got better and better. I think he throws an invisible pitch — no one can hit it.”
A team that was swept away by Chicago in Safeco Field last weekend, the Mariners followed a 15-hit victory on Tuesday with 15 more hits and a second win Wednesday.
Three Mariners — Ackley, Montero and Ichiro Suzuki — had three hits apiece, and two others, Alex Liddi and Michael Saunders, had two.
Liddi? The infielder who took advantage of a rare start Tuesday to hit his first home run of the season got another start Wednesday — and hit his second home run.
Will he play today?
“What do you think?” manager Eric Wedge said, laughing. “I don’t know where, but we’ll think of something.”
Which is precisely what Hernandez had to do. With most of his pitches missing, he went back to basics — his hard sinker and a fastball — and began putting Tigers away.
“I told myself it was 1-0 the whole game,” he said.
Whatever works. By night’s end, Hernandez had given Seattle seven innings, thrown 92 pitches, lowered his earned run average to 2.48 and won his second game.
“Felix didn’t have his good stuff early on, and he really had to fight through that first inning,” Wedge said. “He never gave in, he got through it and finished strong.”
Ahead after an inning, 1-0, the Mariners got three runs in the second inning on a two-run single by Ackley and Brendan Ryan’s sacrifice fly.
In the third inning, Liddi followed a Montero infield single with another home run to left field.
“I’d been hitting the ball hard but at people the last week,” said Ackley, who had three RBI. “I moved up a little in the batters box tonight. I don’t think I’ll move again soon.”
A leadoff hitter ’80 per cent of the time’ in the minors, Ackley said his first chance to bat first in 2012 — when Chone Figgins sat — didn’t change his approach a bit.
“Don’t change what you do best, no matter where you’re hitting,” Ackley said. “We got Felix a lead and he found his groove. Hitters feed off each other, and we did that tonight.”
Asked about his offense, Wedge said Mariners fans are seeing a team develop game by game.
“We have guys just figuring out what their own best hitting zone is,” Wedge said. “We’re getting better quality at-bats, finding out what these guys are capable of.
“We’re starting to hit a little better with runners in scoring position. The last piece will be when we’re comfortable hitting with two outs and runners in scoring position.”
As for Hernandez, he couldn’t quite forget that loud, long fly ball from Cabrera in the first inning.
“Man, he’s one of the toughest hitters out there,” Hernandez said. “And he’s batting about .500 against me.”
About? Cabrera began the night hitting exactly .500 against Hernandez (9-for-18), then went 0-for-3.
“I’ll tell you, it’s fun watching Felix match up with guys like Cabrera and (Prince) Fielder,” Wedge said. “That’s baseball.”