SEATTLE — One by one in the Boston clubhouse, those who were tasked with trying to get a hit off Felix Hernandez on Thursday night could not stop with the accolades.
“That’s the best we’ve seen. He was unreal. His stuff was moving all over the place,” Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “He kept the ball out of the middle of the plate. He was pretty special tonight.”
Hernandez matched his career high with 13 strikeouts in a brilliant five-hit complete game and John Jaso’s pinch-hit single in the bottom of the ninth off reliever Scott Atchison scored Casper Wells to give the Seattle Mariners a 1-0 win over the Red Sox in the opener of a four-game series.
Hernandez (6-5) tossed his fifth career shutout and was one of the first ones out of the Mariners dugout after Wells’ belly-flop onto home plate with the only run. It was the third straight start where Hernandez looked more like the Cy Young winner he was in 2010. It was his 19th career 10 strikeout game and the first time he’s struck out at least 10 in consecutive starts. The last Mariners pitcher to do that was Freddy Garcia back in 1999.
His fastball was moving late and his breaking balls had bite. It was the third time in his career Hernandez struck out 13, the most recent coming on May 22, 2011 at San Diego.
“He was King Felix,” Boston outfielder Cody Ross said. “He was as good as I’ve ever seen.”
The performance by Hernandez overshadowed an equally solid performance from Boston starter Franklin Morales, who matched Hernandez for most of the night. Making just his third start of the season, Morales gave up just two hits through six innings with only one of those leaving the infield. He gave up just three hits and striking out seven and walking just two. It was his longest start of the season after going five and six innings in his previous outings, but he left unable to get a decision.
“He pitched extremely, extremely well. Aggressive in the strike zone, consistent with all three pitches, throwing them anytime in the count,” Boston manager Bobby Valentine said. “In and out, up and down, it was some pretty good stuff. It’s what you teach.”
While Hernandez was brilliant, he also got a huge defensive assist from Wells in the eighth inning and a realization from Adrian Gonzalez of the massive dimensions of Safeco Field in the ninth. Wells took away a hit from Mike Aviles with a sliding catch for the second out of the eighth and moments later, Wells was racing toward the left-field corner and made an even better backhanded sliding catch while crashing into the padded wall for the final out of the inning on a fly ball from Daniel Nava.
Then came the ninth and the only time Hernandez was tested.
Hernandez struck out Pedroia on a 3-2 pitch to open the ninth inning. David Ortiz responded with a line drive back up the middle on a hanging curveball that sent Hernandez sprawling to avoid the shot. He got ahead of Jarrod Saltalamacchia 1-2, but missed on the edges and walked him on a 3-2 pitch, allowing a runner to second base for just the third time in the game.
Newly acquired Brent Lillibridge pinch-ran for Ortiz with Gonzalez coming to the plate. Hernandez almost instantly fell behind Gonzalez 3-0, but fought back to 3-2 before Gonzalez fouled off the next four pitches. On the ninth pitch, Gonzalez hit a shot to deep left-center that Michael Saunders chased down just before the wall. Will Middlebrooks then popped out and Hernandez was left waiting to see if the Mariners offense could get him a run.
“That’s one of the only parks that holds that ball,” Valentine said of Gonzalez’s shot.
Seattle’s ninth inning rally started after Jesus Montero had weakly flied out to open the inning. Wells lined a double into the gap in left-center and Boston followed by surprisingly issuing an intentional walk to Justin Smoak, who had just one hit in his previous 13 at-bats. That decision also allowed Wedge to use Jaso instead of Miguel Olivo with the Red Sox out of left-handers in the bullpen.
Jaso, who already led the team in game-winning RBIs didn’t waste time lining the first pitch from Atchinson (2-1) into right. Ross made strong throw to the plate and Saltalamacchia appeared to have time to apply the tag, but lost control of the ball trying to make the tag.
“I knew Cody was going to make a great throw and he did,” Saltalamacchia said. “It was right on the money. I just have to do a better job of holding on to it.”