By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
DETROIT — Felix Hernandez’s marvelously dominant streak of ultra-plus quality starts came to an end Saturday night when the Seattle Mariners suffered a 4-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.
The Tigers pushed Hernandez’s pitch count to accelerated levels through the early innings, and the Mariners never solved David Price, a former Cy Young Award winner whom Detroit acquired at the trade deadline.
Hernandez (13-4) entered the game with a streak of 16 consecutive starts of pitching at least seven innings while allowing two or fewer runs. That run ended when he departed after giving up two runs and seven hits in five innings.
“It’s over,” he said. “I’ll start a new one.”
Hernandez threw 92 pitches in those five innings and also suffered a bruised right hip on a sharp comebacker by Ian Kinsler that ended the fourth. Hernandez pushed through the fifth, but that was it.
“I’m OK,” he said, “but it’s pretty sore. He hit me pretty good.”
Hernandez dismissed the possibility that he might not make his next scheduled start.
Price (12-8) won for the first time in three starts since arriving July 31 from Tampa Bay in the same three-team deal that brought outfielder Austin Jackson to the Mariners.
“He was good,” left fielder Dustin Ackley said. “He didn’t let us string anything together. I thought we took some good swings off him. We had some hard-hit balls but nothing we could string together.”
The Mariners erased a 1-0 deficit by turning Jackson’s leadoff double into a run in the fourth, but the Tigers answered when Nick Castellanos hit Hernandez’s first pitch in the bottom of the inning for a home run.
“Dumb,” Hernandez said. “That was right in the middle and up.”
The loss snapped the Mariners’ five-game winning streak and dropped them one-half game behind the Tigers in the race for the American League’s final wild-card spot.
“The stars didn’t align tonight,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “and we just have to move on.”
The Mariners didn’t go quietly. Not entirely, anyway.
For one thing, they weren’t happy with umpire Tony Randazzo’s work behind the plate, which frustrated Hernandez and resulted in McClendon getting ejected in the second inning.
“What was going on?” Hernandez parroted. “That’s a good question. If you saw the game, you know what happened. I was throwing a lot of pitches from the beginning of the game. That was the key right there.”
The Mariners, down 4-1, finally made Price squirm in the eighth inning by loading the bases with one out by sandwiching two walks around a Logan Morrison single.
Price responded by striking out Jackson and retiring Ackley on a fielder’s-choice grounder to shortstop. The sellout crowd of 43,833 rose to salute Price as he walked to the dugout.
Joe Nathan gave up one run in the ninth before closing out Price’s victory with a scoreless ninth inning for his 25th save in 31 chances.
Hernandez’s 16-game streak broke the previous record of 13 such starts by Tom Seaver of the 1971 New York Mets. The previous American League record was 12 by Chief Bender of the 1907 Philadelphia A’s.
Hernandez also owns the record for consecutive starts of at least seven innings while allowing two or fewer earned runs. The previous record was 15 by Gaylord Perry of the 1974 Cleveland Indians.
Two other streaks ended.
Hernandez had won nine straight decisions against the Tigers, dating to 2007, before Saturday’s loss. The franchise record for consecutive winning decisions against one opponent is 11 by Jamie Moyer against Baltimore.
When the Tigers clipped reliever Brandon Maurer for two runs in the seventh inning, they became the first opponent in 14 games to score more than three runs against the Mariners.
The last AL club with a longer run was the 1991 Toronto Blue Jays at 15.
This was the first match-up between the Price and Hernandez — the 2012 Cy Young winner and the 2010 recipient. And simply, on this night, Price was better.
“David threw a tremendous game for them,” McClendon said. “He’s a big-time pitcher. He’s around the plate, and he made some great pitches.”
The Tigers opened the scoring after J.D. Martinez started the second inning with an infield single. Martinez stole second with one one and went to third Alex Avila’s single through the right side.
It was then, with Eugenio Suarez at the plate, that Randazzo ejected McClendon after a few close calls went against Hernandez. McClendon got the heave from the bench before coming out to argue further.
Suarez hit a slow grounder to third that scored Martinez when the Mariners couldn’t turn the double play. Hernandez avoided further damage but finished the inning at 49 pitches.
“Felix’s worst start in two months,” Ackley said, “and he gives up two runs. That shows what kind of pitcher he is.”