King Felix tailors opener to Safeco Field faithful
Felix Hernandez waited eight years to return to Safeco Field for an Opening Day start. Eight years to hear the crowd roar and chant and go nuts as he dominated the American League West-rival Angels in a 4-1 victoryon Monday.
And, yeah, the King said. It was worth the wait.
"That was amazing," said Hernandez, who'd made six Opening Day road starts since his last Seattle season debut in 2007. "That was unbelievable. It was a great experience. The fans were unbelievable. It was awesome."
So was Hernandez, as the 28-year-old fired seven innings of two-hit ball. The only run he allowed was a first-inning homer to Mike Trout, which merely seemed to irritate the Mariners' ace as he proceeded to blank the Angels while striking out 10.
"I threw five fastballs in a row and I tried to go away, but it stayed in the middle," Hernandez said of his battle with the reigning AL Most Valuable Player Award winner. "It was just a mistake."
Hernandez didn't make many more as he improved to 6-0 with a 1.49 ERA in eight Opening Day starts. And against an Angels team that used to have his number, Hernandez is now 5-1 with a 1.07 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 59 innings over his last nine meetings.
How was his game?
"What do you think?" Hernandez said with a smile. "It was pretty good. Except that homer in the first inning. After that, it was working. Good pitches, great curveball, great changeup and an excellent fastball."
The only thing that slowed Hernandez was a cramp in his calf that started biting him in his final two frames. Manager Lloyd McClendon and the trainers hustled out to visit him after he limped a bit following a comebacker to the mound by Matt Joyce leading off the seventh, but he finished that inning and a 97-pitch debut.
"I wasn't going to come out of the game. It was just a cramp," Hernandez said. "I drank a lot of water and that's it."
McClendon was understated in praise of his ace, but he knows this was just Game 1 of a long season.
"Felix did a nice job," said the second-year skipper. "He started cramping a little bit and we'd seen enough. Ninety-seven pitches is probably a little more than I wanted on the first day of the season, but he did a nice job."
Hernandez struggled in two of his last three starts this spring, but he said he felt fine and those results meant nothing. And nobody questioned that he'd turn things up once Opening Day arrived.
"Once the intensity is up and the adrenaline is going, you're going to get 'Original Felix,'" said catcher Mike Zunino. "He had a little extra crispness and energy in the bullpen. I think he thrived off all that today."
Hernandez is the fourth pitcher in Major League history with three or more Opening Day starts with 10-plus strikeouts. He's tied for seventh in Major League history for the most Opening Day wins with six. He extended his franchise record for most Opening Day starts to eight (no other pitcher in Major League history has that many prior to their 29th birthday). And with six wins, the next closest Mariner on Opening Day is Randy Johnson with two.
What makes him so special on the first day of the season?
"I don't know," Hernandez said. "It's a great challenge. You have a lot of eyes on you, so you've got to do good."