By Todd Dybas The News Tribune
NEW YORK — There was $336 million worth of starting pitching on the mound Tuesday in the Bronx.
Both Felix Hernandez ($175 million contract) and CC Sabathia ($161 million) have won Cy Young awards. Their lists of success are expansive. Strikeouts. All-Star appearances. Domination.
In large part this duel of power came down to something small: a tweak.
Hernandez felt a “pinch” in his lower back when he fielded a grounder, pivoted and threw to second base in the sixth inning. As a result, his night was over when the inning finished and the Seattle Mariners lost the 3-1 lead he held in a 4-3 loss to the New York Yankees.
Each starter was pressed during the evening. Hernandez stranded baserunners in five of his six innings, striking out eight and allowing five hits.
The Mariners pressured Sabathia. He left after six innings and giving up 10 hits. One of which was a two-run homer to the short porch in right field by Raul Ibanez.
Hernandez left with the Mariners ahead 3-1. The lone reason he did not return was out of concern for his back.
“Under any other circumstance, I want to send Felix back out there,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.
Both Wedge and Hernandez said the Mariners’ ace will be fine in the long run.
“I’m hoping that he’s fine, and I think he will be fine,” Wedge said. “When you tweak something like that on a play … what you don’t want to have happen is send him back out there (and) he starts compromising things.
“Then you change your delivery and you have a chance of doing something else that’s even more serious. I wasn’t going to take that chance.”
Hernandez has managed occasional back tightness throughout the season. Postgame, he at times has an ice pack around his lower back.
He said his back pain had nothing to do with an odd yet mild collision at first base two innings earlier.
A grounder between first and second from Lyle Overbay was picked up by second baseman Robert Andino in the fourth. Andino looked at second, but decided to throw to first where Kendrys Morales and Hernandez were both covering. Morales caught the ball facing the outfield, beating Overbay tothe bag by more than two steps.
But, Hernandez was standing behind Morales, causing Overbay to run into the Seattle pitcher. After a long discussion, the umpires informed an angered Wedge that Overbay would be awarded first base because of obstruction by Hernandez, who was charged with an error.
That put runners on first and second with one out. No matter. Hernandez struck out Jayson Nix and former teammate Ichiro Suzuki to end the inning. His main issue at that point was his pitch count. Hernandez had thrown 69 pitches after four innings. He finished at 97.
Without Hernandez, the Mariners began to match up with their bullpen. Yoervis Medina opened the doomed seventh by giving up a hit befoe striking out Austin Romine prior to being replaced by Charlie Furbush.
Furbush (0-2) walked Brett Gardner before giving up a two-run double to Robinson Cano to tie the score at 3-3. Furbush walked three — one intentional — and gave up two runs in his third⅓ of an inning. Overbay’s sacrifice fly off Furbush gave the Yankees a 4-3 lead. It was just the second blown save by the Mariners this season.
Mariano Rivera added to his expansive kindling pile by breaking two bats on his way to three consecutive outs for his 16th save.
It’s the innings prior to Rivera’s arrival the Mariners can lament. They left 11 runners on base.
“I thought we did a good job against CC,” Wedge said. “I thought our guys did a nice job of fighting him. We never really had that knockout blow there.”