ARLINGTON, Texas — His team refused to part with him, and Felix Hernandez made sure the Mariners did not wind up regretting it.
Despite battling control issues throughout Saturday’s contest with the Texas Rangers, Hernandez bulldogged through seven innings tougher than most he’s faced all year. And though the Rangers helped Hernandez by running themselves out of some innings, his longevity was much appreciated in a 7-2 win that saw Seattle’s bullpen spelled from its heavy workload the previous two nights.
Hernandez’s effort also kept him stay very much alive in the only race anyone from his team really has a shot at. His 12th win of the season moved him into a tie for second place in the American League and kept him on pace to contend for the Cy Young Award.
The outing by Hernandez, who entered the night with the fifth-best earned-run average in the league at 2.79, came one day after the Mariners refused to trade him at the July 31 deadline despite offers from about a half-dozen teams.
Reports out of Boston stated that the Red Sox were believed to have made a heavy push for Hernandez, but no deal came together. On Friday, general manager Jack Zduriencik said he would have been “shocked” to see a team put together a package good enough to make him think about trading Hernandez.
But Red Sox GM Theo Epstein told reporters in Boston that he believed he laid the foundation for a couple of potential impact deals next winter. Epstein didn’t specify which players were involved, but a couple of reports speculated that it may have involved Hernandez.
The Mariners’ ace was hit hard and often by the Toronto Blue Jays last Monday night as his personal winning streak was snapped at seven. And he needed a lift from Ken Griffey Jr. and Jose Lopez in this one to help withstand another shaky start.
Griffey launched a three-run homer to straightaway center off touted rookie Tommy Hunter in the first inning to put Seattle up 3-0, silencing a crowd of 29,458 fans at Rangers Ballpark. The Mariners upped that lead to 5-0 before Nelson Cruz of Texas hit a mammoth, 458-foot homer to left-center — fourth-longest in the stadium’s history — in the fourth.
Hernandez’s countryman, Lopez, continued his torrid stretch at the plate by collecting a home run and three hits for the second consecutive night. Lopez’s solo homer in the eighth restored a five-run cushion for the Mariners after Hernandez had pitched out of a two-on, none-out jam in the seventh.
The pitcher got some help from poor Rangers baserunning. He struck out Omar Vizquel, but the ball got away from catcher Rob Johnson. The runner at first base, Elvis Andrus, took some hesitant steps, then broke for second — not realizing lead runner Jarrod Saltalamacchia had returned to that bag.
Andrus was eventually doubled up and Hernandez escaped the inning on his 104th and final pitch of the night.
Hernandez’s early innings were no picnic either.
He walked three batters in the first two innings, allowing five runners in those scoreless frames. The Rangers helped him out of a two-on, one-out jam in the first when Vizquel unwisely tagged up from third on a medium-depth fly ball to Ichiro in right.
Ichiro made a high throw, but the umpire ruled Johnson got the tag down in time despite a replay showing Vizquel might have been safe. Then, with the bases loaded and two out in the second, Hernandez ran the count full on Vizquel before getting him to fly out.
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