It appears that the hapless Kansas City Royals, who blew a 6-2 lead in a 9-6 loss to the Angels, will do no favors for the Mariners, so Seattle simply can’t afford to lose any games right now. And they certainly can’t lose a game with Felix Hernandez on the mound.
But for seven innings it certainly looked that way. Felix was solid as usual. He shook off a tough first inning and then gave the Mariners nation a near second coronary in two days when he twisted his ankle on Marcus Thames’ infield bloop fly.
Wakamatsu had a sick feeling in his stomach as Felix lay on the infield grass not getting up immediately.
"The same thing that happened with Franklin Gutierrez last night," Wakamatsu said. "You hold your breath and hope it’s not severe. After the game, we checked on him, and he had no ill-effects from it."
What did Felix think?
“I’m used to it,” he said.
Perhaps, but is there a need to go for that play. It’s not a high percentage play.
“It’s a flyball and I’m going to try and catch it,” he said.
Apparently, he’s channeling his inner-Franklin Gutierrez.
Ever the competitor, Felix got up threw a few warm up pitches and proceeded to pitch the next 4 1/3 inning allowing just one hit.
“That shows his competitiveness and how much he battled to get into that seventh inning,” Wakamatsu said. “I thought he did a great job, came out and competed, his stuff was good. Just the pitch count got up a little bit. Other than that, you can’t ask for anything more.”
And yet, after seven innings, he still was behind 1-0 and looking at a loss.
Well, Tigers starter Armando Galarraga – a fellow Venezuelan and friend of Felix – was better.
He allowed on 1 hit – a Ryan Langerhans single to right – over 7 1/3 innings.
"He changes speeds, he doesn’t throw anything in the middle of the plate," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. "He threw a heck of a ballgame. He kept us off balance and threw a lot of pitches right on the corner. We couldn’t square anything up. He seemed to want us to swing a little bit off the plate. He did a nice job."
But he was lifted in the eighth with one out and a runner on first by Jim Leyland, who brought in lefty Bobby Seay to face left-handed hitting Ichiro and Russell Branyan. Yeah, that move didn’t work out so well. After a fielders choice gave Seay two outs, he left a 1-0 slider over the plate and Branyan deposited it some 400 feet away in the right-center bleachers.
“I feel like I’ve been going up there the last two weeks trying to pull the ball, Branyan said. “That at-bat I got real focused on trying to see the ball deep and hitting it the other way, but it just happened to be a slider up in the zone and I was able to pull it.”
Wakamatsu hopes it will get Branyan going offensively after a few recent struggles.
"A lot of the credit goes to Russell, and how much he’s struggled as of late," Wakamatsu said. "He keeps battling and keeps going. He hit the big home run in Cleveland and he hit the big home run tonight."
It was Branyan’s 24th homer of the season, tying a career high for home runs in a season.
“I haven’t had time to look back at what that means,” he said. “I don’t really know what it means. I’m just looking forward to preparing for myself for the rest of the season and trying to finish up strong.”
Realistically in Branyan’s past, he probably would have never gotten the chance to hit the homer because he would have been lifted for a pinch hitter with the lefty Seay coming in. But not this season.
"I feel like I have just a quality of at-bat against a lefty as I do a righty," Branyan said. "To be able to prove that, it means a lot to me."
In the middle of the dugout celebration following Branyan’s homer was Hernandez, who was jumping about wildly without even thinking of his ankle.
"(Mariners trainer) Rick (Griffin) said, ‘You’re jumping around huh? Your ankle feels good huh?’ I said, ‘Hell yeah, now it feels good.’"
What feels good was getting his 11th win this season and 50th of his career. It was fitting that Felix reached the milestone at Comerica since he made his first professional start in the big leagues there on Aug. 4, 2005. Fast forward to Wednesday and Felix was standing in front of the same locker being informed of the achievement. He had no idea.
"Oh really … really?" he asked. "I’m proud. I’m just proud, man. I’m proud."
But Wakamatsu and his teammates are more proud of the fact that he’s 10-2 with 1.94 ERA this season in starts after a Mariners loss.
“We’ve talked about it over and over again — to be able to have Felix come back after a loss,” Wakamatsu said. “That’s his 10th win after we suffered a loss. We keep talking about the belief system, and how much he means to this club.”
Branyan agreed with the sentiment.
"It’s almost as if we expect to win the ball game each and every time he steps on the mound," Branyan said. "If we lose a ball game, we just say, ‘hey we’re going to be all right because we got Fi-Fi (Hernandez’s nickname) on the mound.’"