SEATTLE (AP) — The last time the Tampa Bay Rays had a perfect game tossed against them, they ended up champions of the AL East.
Leave it to Joe Maddon to find an extremely optimistic view of the Rays getting held without a runner for the third time since 2009.
Felix Hernandez pitched the Seattle Mariners’ first perfect game and the 23rd in baseball history, overpowering the Rays in a brilliant 1-0 victory Wednesday.
The 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner has never hid his desire for pitching perfection. For a franchise on its way to an 11th straight season without a playoff appearance, Hernandez is the one constant keeping fans interested in Mariners baseball.
Throwing a perfect game has always been in the front of Hernandez’s mind when he steps on the mound. It finally came together against the Rays.
“His stuff, it’s electric. That’s just the bottom line,” Tampa Bay’s B.J. Upton said. “He had it today, he’s a very good pitcher and over time, before the end of his career he’s definitely going to go down in the history books.”
For the Rays, it was an all-too-familiar feeling. This was the third time in four seasons they had a perfect game pitched against them, following efforts by Dallas Braden in 2010 and Mark Buehrle in 2009.
It was the third perfect game in baseball this season — a first — joining gems by Chicago’s Philip Humber against the Mariners in April and San Francisco’s Matt Cain versus Houston in June. More than half of all perfectos — 12 — have come in the last 25 seasons.
This also was the sixth no-hitter in the majors this season, three of them at Safeco Field. Humber threw his gem in Seattle, then six Mariners pitchers combined to hold the Los Angeles Dodgers hitless at the park on June 8. There have been seven no-hitters in a season twice since 1900. It happened in 1990 and again in 1991, with Nolan Ryan throwing two in those days.
“It was always in my mind, every game. ‘I need to throw a perfect game.’ For every pitcher I think it’s in their mind,” Hernandez said. “Today it happened and it’s something special. I don’t have any words to explain this. This is pretty amazing. It doesn’t happen every day.”
Hernandez’s dominance got stronger as the game progressed. He cruised for five innings, then pitched through tough at-bats, delay tactics and the mounting pressure of perfection to close out the gem. Hernandez struck out 12, including but eight in the final four innings. He struck out the side in the sixth, did it again in the eighth and hit as high as 95 mph in the ninth.
Two starts earlier against the New York Yankees, Hernandez tossed a two-hit shutout, leading Seattle manager Eric Wedge to call it the finest outing he’s seen from Hernandez. Suffice to say, Wednesday was better.
“It seemed like every pitch you thought he was going to throw at a certain point or you guessed a pitch, it was the other pitch and when you thought you would take a pitch to get into the count a little bit he was throwing strike one,” Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria said. “It makes it tough when a guy can do that.”
Desmond Jennings pinch hit for Jose Lobaton to open the ninth. Hernandez got ahead 1-2 before Jennings fouled off two straight and Hernandez fanned him on a 92 mph fastball down in the zone. Jeff Keppinger batted for Elliot Johnson and grounded out to shortstop on a 1-2 pitch.
With one out to go, Rodriguez got ahead 2-0 in the count. After circling the mound, Hernandez took the sign from catcher John Jaso and came back with two straight breaking balls for strikes. He ended perfection with a called third strike on his 113th pitch.
“I went 2-0 and I just took a little walk, took a break, and he called a slider. I had been following him the whole game, so I threw a slider and he swing,” Hernandez said. “It was a good thing I followed this guy.”
The 26-year-old Venezuelan right-hander had the Rays swinging over his sharp curve all afternoon, with Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist and Carlos Pena each striking out in the eighth chasing breaking balls.
Tampa Bay seemed to try another technique to disrupt Hernandez, and that also failed. With two outs in the seventh, Maddon came out to argue after plate umpire Rob Drake called strike one on a borderline pitch to Matt Joyce. Maddon stuck around for a minute or so to argue and when he left, Hernandez was still right in rhythm.
“I was yelling at Joe to get … out of there,” Wedge said.
Maddon said he felt the zone was getting too wide to left-handed hitters. After Maddon’s ejection, Joyce worked the count to 3-2, Hernandez’s third and final three-ball count, and hit an inning-ending groundout.
A long wait on the bench in the bottom of the seventh didn’t hamper Hernandez, who struck out Longoria on a biting breaking ball to start the eighth. With chants of “Let’s Go Felix!” growing, Hernandez struck out Ben Zobrist. The chant grew in volume as Hernandez struck out Carlos Pena to end the inning.
Seattle’s only run came thanks to Brendan Ryan’s aggressive baserunning. He led off the third with his first hit in 10 at-bats against Jeremy Hellickson (7-8), a sharp single to left. He was still at first with two outs when he got a great jump on a curveball that bounced in the dirt and escaped Lobaton. Ryan never hesitated at second and made it all the way to third. He then jogged home when Jesus Montero followed with a single to left.
“We hit some balls early and then we stopped making contact. That’s when he started introducing all his other goodies and that’s when it got kind of ugly,” Maddon said. “We had bad swings at the breaking ball. It was dominant.”
NOTES: Seattle’s previous individual no-hitter came when Chris Bosio shut down Boston on April 22, 1993. Seattle’s other no-hitter was thrown by Randy Johnson against Detroit on June 2, 1990. … Tampa Bay was no-hit for the fifth time in franchise history. … Maddon’s ejection was his second of the season. … Maddon said the team plans to keep INF Luke Scott on his rehab assignment in the minors through the weekend. Scott has been on the DL with an oblique strain.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.