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SEATTLE — Tampa Bay’s young starter, Blake Snell, dominated early, even tying an American League record with seven straight strikeouts to start the game.
Still, it wasn’t enough as veteran star Felix Hernandez outlasted him with a vintage performance.
The Seattle Mariners’ offense eked out a couple runs in the eighth inning for the 2-1 victory Sunday and a three-game sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Snell, who was born in Seattle and graduated from Shorewood High School in 2011, struck out 12 — including the first seven batters he faced to tie the American League record. He didn’t give up a run in six innings, but he couldn’t outlast Hernandez.
Hernandez (6-4) allowed one run in eight innings, the first time he’s pitched past the seventh inning this season. He gave up five hits and one walk and struck out seven, tying his season high. His one run allowed was his fewest since he threw 51⁄3 scoreless against the Cleveland Indians in the season opener.
“What Mr. Snell threw at us for six innings is pretty special stuff,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “Our old guy hung right with him. That was great to see. I thought it was the best Felix has thrown the ball, certainly since Opening Day. He came out with an attitude today and had something to prove.”
Hernandez had struggled this season. His 5.83 ERA entering the game was the highest among Seattle’s regular starters, and his troubles usually came early— he had a 12.00 ERA in the first inning before Sunday’s start. Against the Rays, his perfect first inning was a sign things might be different.
“It set the tone,” Hernandez said. “The first inning I’ve had a lot of trouble. After that it was fine.”
Hernandez ran into trouble a few times Sunday. He got into a bases-loaded jam with one out in the fifth inning, giving up two singles and hitting a batter. He struck out Joey Wendle and then gloved Matt Duffy’s sharp comebacker to the mound to end the inning. After tossing the ball to first for the out, Hernandez jumped and yelled in celebration.
Hernandez gave up only one other base runner in his final three innings, and retired the final eight batters he faced.
“I’m happy,” Hernandez said. “If I was not pitching the way I pitched today, I was going to pack my stuff and go home — just kidding.”
Snell matched the opening strikeout mark set by Joe Cowley of the White Sox on May 28, 1986, and also reached by Carlos Rodon for the White Sox on Sept. 30, 2016. He was one shy of the major-league record held by Jim Deshaies and Jacob deGrom.
“Everything was working. I was throwing the ball where I wanted to for the whole game,” Snell said.
Snell also tied a club record for most consecutive strikeouts at any point during a game. He allowed two hits and did not walk a batter.
“When we took him out of the game, I think everyone went up to him and said, ‘Thanks, that was fun to watch,’” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said.
Servais said Snell’s spectacular performance helped Hernandez.
“I think he loved that their guy was really good,” Servais said of Hernandez. “It allowed him to elevate his game. It forced him to elevate his game.”
Ex-Mariner Brad Miller’s RBI double in the fourth gave the Rays a 1-0 lead, but the Mariners’ offense pulled ahead in the eighth against reliever Jose Alvarado (0-2) with RBI singles from Denard Span and Dee Gordon. The Mariners were helped by an error, when Miller, Tampa Bay’s first baseman, let Alvarado’s throw bounce off his glove on Guillermo Heriedia’s sacrifice bunt attempt, putting runners on first and third with no outs.
Edwin Diaz pitched the ninth for his major league-leading 21st save.