Going into tonight’s game, there were three major storylines to follow. The first one, obviously, would be Felix Hernandez’ first start since his perfect game last Wednesday. Would he falter after securing his mane in the history books, like so many before him have? Or would he shine like the pitcher we have grown to love here in Seattle?
The second tidbit surrounding this game was the fact that the Mariners were on a six game winning streak. It was their second six game winning streak since the All-Star break, a period of time in which they were 23-13, leading the American League. Would the winning streak be extended to seven, bringing the Mariners within four games of .500 and that much closer to potential playoff conversations?
The third is something that has been missing in Safeco Field for years. Sure, Opening Night is always a lock to draw a sell-out crowd. Bobblehead nights bring out certain parts of the ‘fanbase’ and visits by the Red Sox or Yankees bring out others, but Safeco has lately become more of a consistent home for the seagulls that feed on the scraps of the 14,000 or less fans that show up on weeknights. Kevin Martinez and the marketing team, however, had a vision. They had a vision of expanding the popular King’s Court section to the whole stadium, engulfing Safeco Field in a sea of yellow and the letter K. Would the promotion actually draw fans to the ballpark? Would Seattle show Felix the love he has shown Seattle over the years?
To say that Mariners’ fans got their money’s worth on Tuesday evening would be an understatement. I was at Alex Rodriguez’ first game at Safeco Field as a Texas Ranger and I got to witness an entire city boo a player with all its strength. I was also at the game where Ken Griffey, Jr. returned to Safeco as a member of the Cincinnati Reds; the game where Seattle was able to demonstrate their respect, gratefulness and admiration of The Kid. Tonight was different though.
While there were strong emotions, both positive and negative, tied with A-Rod and Griffey, the reaction didn’t compare to tonight. Both of those players moved on from Seattle and all feelings and memories regarding them were about the past. With Felix, tonight was different. While Mariners fans were celebrating Felix’s accomplishments, they were cheering on one of their own. All 39,000 fans in Safeco, most wearing their King of Perfection shirts and waving their K-cards, rose to their feet and greeted Felix with thundering applause and a standing ovation… as he left the bullpen to make his way to the dugout. The love that Seattle has for Felix was obvious, and his huge smile and acknowledgement of the fans reaffirmed that this relationship is a two-way one – Felix loves Seattle as much as Seattle loves him.
Anyway, the game. Felix’s bid for yet another perfect game (or even no-hitter) was broken up with the first batter of the game. Felix is to a point in his career where each first hit is a disappointment – but the fact that we are to the point of anticipating no-hitters is a testament to his absolutely dominating run he is currently on and the pitcher he has turned in to. Felix is the best pitcher in baseball, and he didn’t let his fans down tonight.
While he wasn’t able to recreate his perfect game, Felix did pitch into the eighth inning and gave up just one run. He left to yet another standing ovation from the still-packed Safeco Field crowd – an ovation that led him to remove his cap on the way back to the dugout and salute each and every fan that came out to see him.
As has become commonplace with this team, the offense did enough to win the game. Eric Thames hit a monstrous homerun. Jesus Montero hit an even longer one, a three run shot that sealed the win for Felix, his 12th on the year. The Mariners did extend their winning streak to an incredible seven games, and their record now stands at 60-64. They passed the Boston Red Sox in the wild card race. They are 12 back of the Rangers in the A.L. West (they were 11.5 back in 1995) and are just 7 out of a wild card spot. Crazier things have happened.
Tonight wasn’t just about the Mariners and 2012, though. Tonight was about Seattle and Felix Hernandez. Earlier today, Felix made a promise on the radio that he would stay in Seattle. He has frequently said how much he wants to remain a Mariner for his career and how much he loves Seattle. Guess what, Felix?
We love you too.
Next game: vs. Indians | August 22 | 12:40 pm