NEW YORK – In a city that believes itself to be the center of the universe, it was difficult for writers here to understand just what Felix Hernandez did to God’s team – the New York Yankees.
The questions afterward made Felix smile after his complete-game shutout gave the Seattle Mariners a 1-0 victory.
“How could you make great hitters take so many bad swings,” one New York writer asked.
“All my pitches were working,” he said. “This is a short park, a dangerous place to pitch. You’ve got to keep the ball down.”
As catcher John Jaso explained, Hernandez did more than that.
“His ‘changeup’ can come in 88-89 mph, so the movement comes late,” Jaso said. “Good hitters see it in the strike zone and then it’s just gone.”
Shortstop Brendan Ryan had another description of the pitch.
“It defies science,” Ryan insisted.
After 10 minutes of questions, one New York writer got to what all New Yorkers believe – that Felix secretly wants to be a Yankee.
“Have you ever thought about being in the other clubhouse here?” he asked.
Felix shook his and said: “No.”
The follow up question said it all about New York.
Felix smiled. “I’m happy.”
It was an afternoon he couldn’t be anything but, given the way he pitched and that one run scored was driven in by teammate Mike Carp with two outs in the second inning. The Mariners threatened to add on but the Yankees held them – and Felix seemed not to care.
One run was enough Saturday.
“That was the most impressive start I’ve ever seen,” manager Eric Wedge said, “and I’ve seen a lot of great games. Felix had special stuff. The swings and misses, the mis-hit balls, all in a 1-0 game?
“Every pitch could have changed the game. What you just saw out there? You’re not going to find anything better than that.”
Felix’s 10th win of the season included six strikeouts. He’s had more in many games. He allowed only two hits, and he’s shaved it closer – once one-hitting Boston. Still, as the New York writers kept muttering, to do it against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium?
“I was getting more pumped up as the game went on,” Felix said. “All 1-0 games are special. The fans here are great, they love baseball and there were a lot of them.”
That crowd – 47,067 – cheered relentlessly for the home team, but clearly appreciated Felix and what he was doing.
Domination? After Robinson Cano doubled with two outs in the first inning, Hernandez got a pop up from Mark Texeira. In the third inning, Ichiro Suzuki punched a ball into right field for a single leading off. Felix got the next batter, Russell Martin, to ground into a double play.
That was New York’s offense.
Getting bad swing after bad swing, Felix didn’t pile up strike outs but didn’t pile up pitches, either. Nine in the first inning, nine more in the second ….
“I think I started the eighth inning with like 68 pitches,” Hernandez said. “I felt stronger as the game went on.”
Behind the plate, Jaso marveled at his pitcher.
“The past few games, we’ve used a lot of fastballs and it seemed like that was the only pitch he needed,” Jaso said. “Today, we went with the slider, the changeup.
“The changeup was breaking so sharply I was never sure if I was going to catch it in the air or have to block it. After the first couple of innings, they became aware of those pitches.”
There was another advantage Felix used against New York.
“As a 1-0 game goes on, you had good hitters trying to do a little too much,” Jaso said. “A home run ties it, and Felix made them swing at his pitches. You saw some bad swings from some awfully good hitters.”
Carving up the Yankees, Felix gave the Mariners their eighth win in the past nine games, finishing with only 101 pitches. It was his third shutout of the season and cut his earned run average to 2.63. It was his seventh career shutout, ran his record to 6-0 over his last 10 starts with a1.60 ERA.
The final 22 New York batters went hitless.
Was it the best start of his career? The question puzzled Felix more than the New York hitters had.
“I don’t know. It was good. It was one of my good ones,” he said.
Ryan wasn’t buying it.
“The way he looked in the ninth inning, he could have pitched 15,” he said.
In that ninth, the Yankees had the top of their order come to bat – Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter and Cano. Felix went through them quickly: fly ball, pop up, strike out.
What happened to New York came down to one word Saturday.