June 2nd, 1990—that’s a date that a lot of Mariners fans remember. Randy Johnson threw the first no-hitter in the franchise’s history. Now 22 years later, on the 35th anniversary of Mariners baseball, and on the year that Johnson was inducted into the Mariners Hall of Fame, Felix Hernandez threw the Mariners’ first Perfect Game.
It seems only fitting that Johnson’s battery-mate (and fellow Hall of Fame inductee), Dan Wilson, was helping calling the game on TV. Both Wilson and Johnson were a part of the magical 116-win season in 2001, and it seems as they were both in town in July to celebrate their wonderful accomplishments. They were also in a sense helping us celebrate moving into a new era of Mariners baseball—the King’s era. With his Perfect Game (only the 23rd pitcher in baseball history to complete the feat), paired with his former Cy Young award and numerous shutouts, Felix has finally reached the equivalent of Johnson in the eyes and hearts of Mariners fans. The King and his Court finally equal the Big Unit! And as Hernandez is 26, we are excited for what more may come.
August 15th, 2012, Seattle’s King County was declared King Felix County. Felix says, “See? I’m part of Seattle. I can’t go anywhere.”
At the start of the 8th inning, in his 1-0 Perfect Game against the Rays last Wednesday, Felix Hernandez was trending number 8 worldwide on Twitter. With crowds chanting, “Let’s go, Felix!” he retired that side with 3 straight strikeouts. Alongside Dan the Man in the booth was commentator Dave Sims.
“Struck out the side!” said Sims. “He’s 3 outs away from immortality.” After witnessing the other side of a Perfect Game earlier in the year, where Philip Humber of the White Sox threw one against the M’s, Sims was nothing but pure energy in the booth—“This is our guy, I’m fired up,” he said. At the start of the 9th inning, Sims warned the fans in the Northwest to, “Buckle up.”
After Hernandez struck out the leadoff batter in the 9th, Wilson retorted, “The entire stadium is now King’s Court.” Ever-so-suave shortstop Brendan Ryan received the 2nd play of the inning in a grounder to the 5-6 hole, which he fielded cleanly and blasted across the infield to first baseman Justin Smoak. Then, with the crowd on their feet, and cheers from all-around, the King struck out the 27th batter, and threw his hands up in the air—it was a moment of greatness, possibly immortality.
And talk about catchers. Dan the Man was the best. He was a “guy who always put the team before himself,” according to his former teammates. But this new era brings to us John Jaso who, catching against his former team, was part of the 23rd Perfect Game in baseball history and like the number on his back, he recorded 27 perfect outs. Not to mention his nickname these past few months has been “Mr. Clutch,” and his batting average leads the team.
Of his catcher, M’s manager Eric Wedge said, “He’s going to stick his nose in there, he’s not going to give anything away. You feel good with him up there in those situations.” Jaso has hit a team-leading 12 game-winning RBIs this season, 3 of them being walk-off wins.
Another player who seems to bring a bit of magic with his step is Justin Smoak. This week, he was recalled from AAA, and in his first at-bat he hit a double, and scored against the Rays. He was also part of the game-winning rally in the 9th, hitting the game-tying sac fly. Smoak even anticipated the action: “I knew something was going to happen tonight where it was going to come up to me at some point in the game. It was good to come through right there.”
The next game Smoak would field grounders and play 1st in a Perfect Game, and against the Twins in Game 2 he tied up the game in the 7th with a home run. Of his new-found success, Smoak explained: “That’s the confidence you need to have day-in and day-out, and that’s something I’ve learned. You struggle and you try to learn from it. That’s something I think I’ve learned from. No matter what happens out there, you’ve got to stay positive, and that’s where I’m at right now.” John Jaso was also part of that game-winning rally against the Twins.
The Mariners now have an American League-leading 3 second-half sweeps, and have won 12 of their last 13 at home. Safeco Field rumors are being hushed by the fact that their venue is now famous as the ballpark where no-hitters happen. Three in this year alone is the most of any venue ever—talk about excitement. The Mariners may not have 116 wins this year—but, they’ve really given their fans a team to be proud of.