He was a quality pitcher who threw flames instead of balls for strikes. His fastball smoked. His team didn’t just rely on him, then RELIED on him. He was the ultimate stopper. It is not just his overwhelming fastball that is the secret. It is the two-seam fastball that dances the way Baryshnikov moved on the ballet floor. That and a hard curve, a devastating change-up and with a great slider and you have the perfect storm for a perfect game.
This past Wednesday, August 15, 2012 to be exact, Félix Abraham Hernández García better known as “King Felix” pitched his way into the Hall fo Fame as he threw the 23rd perfect game in Major League Baseball history against the Tampa Bay Rays at Safeco Field in Seattle, in a 1-0 victory. And with it, by the end of the week, his Seattle Mariners had won their 20th victory (against 13 losses) since the All-Star game, the second best winning record in the American League during that time span.
Like Baryshnikov who could dance his way to stardom at an early age on stages of Russia and then in the United States, Hernandez born in Valencia, Venezuela, could throw a fastball 90 mph when he was 14 years old. By the age of 16, the Seattle Mariners signed him to a Major League Baseball contract. That was number sixteen, as in 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16. Not that he was the youngest ever to be signed and played. That belongs to Joe Nuxhall who was 15 years, 10 months and 11 days old when he first stepped foot on a mound in The Show for the Cincinnati Reds in a 1944 game against the St. Louis Cardinals. He lost in that first appearance. But after all, he was a 6’3″ ninth grader a the time. And it was in the middle of WW II.
Regardless of age, “King Felix” has defied all the odds and averaged over 200 innings pitched in his last 7 years on the mound showing what ‘great’ is all about. His durability has been superb in an era when starting pitchers go down with injury all of the time. This three-time All-Star and 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner, has averaged 8+ strikeouts per game over his entire career. And now he has the only perfect game for the Seattle Mariners in their history.
That’s a big deal when you consider Randy Johnson pitched for the Mariners. Jamie Moyer, in his prime, pitched for the Mariners. Mark Langston pitched for the Mariners. Each of them pitched over 1190 innings for the Mariners. But Felix Hernandez leads them all in ERA (3.17), well ahead of Randy Johnson (3.42), Moyer (3.97) or Langston (4.01). He is #1 in walks & hits per innings pitched (1.203) for the Mariners. That only 1 hit or walk per inning pitched in his entire career. That’s astonishing.
Is he the greatest Mariner pitcher of all time?
He has pitched 300 inning fewer than Johnson. Randy is sure to go into the Hall of Fame. So by the time Felix reaches that point of more than 1839 innings pitched in his career as a Mariner (he has pitched in 1568 through Wednesday), time will tell.
But right now, The Puget Palooza, the best pitcher in the American League if not all of baseball, is “King Felix”. He’s got the stuff that make him a show in THE SHOW. And if you don’t believe that, name another who even comes close to the stuff he has.
What a Wednesday he brought us, Seattle and all of baseball.
Mikhail Baryshnikov once said “It doesn’t matter how high your lift your leg. The technique is about transparent, simplicity and making an earnest attempt”. Trust me. Felix Hernandez understands that completely.
If Seattle pulls off the improbable this season and keeps up the good playing that they have shown over the past month or so, they will be riding on the shoulders, arm and yes, legs, of the “King”. And that’s what a King can do by the SEA.