Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.
July 24, 2008 8:14 AM
Posted by Geoff Baker
Sitting at the airport getting ready to fly to Toronto. It occured to me the other day that it was at roughly this time a year ago that Felix Hernandez had one of his two mid-summer meltdowns. The second of those came in Toronto, when a pitch didn't get called the way he wanted. Next thing you know, a couple of home runs are hit off him seconds apart and the game is pretty much done.
I thought about that yesterday as I watched Hernandez battle through that sixth inning jam with the bases loaded and none out. Yes, I know he wound up walking Coco Crisp to force home a run. Mel Stottlemyre went out there to calm him down. To make sure there was no repeat of last summer in Toronto. There was none. Hernandez got through that sixth with his team only down 3-1. Jose Vidro tied it up, mainly because Hernandez didn't bury his club in a 7-1 hole. On a day he didn't have his best stuff, he still went six innings and allowed only three runs. It showed me a lot.
This wasn't like the six-inning, three-run performance he had in Texas back in May. This Boston Red Sox team works pitchers to death. Can destroy them if they show up with less-than-perfect command. The Texas Rangers were hacking that night in May. Hernandez was not in control that night and only some lucky breaks -- like a double play ball drilled right at him instead of into center field -- kept him from getting knocked from the game pretty early on. He was off that entire night and a less-patient Texas squad helped him through some innings. Not so much this time. Against an offense willing to wait him out. Even when he was in trouble against Boston, he still looked like he was in charge. Think of how he obliterated Jason Varitek in that sixth-inning at-bat. Right before the Crisp walk. Hey, I never said Hernandez was perfect. But I'll take what I saw yesterday if that's as bad as it's going to get from here on in.
He's not a true staff ace yet. But he's taken a big step forward this year. He's pitching like an ace several years his senior. Not every time out. But more and more consistently. In a season with little else to be happy about for M's fans, that certainly ranks as the best thing to take out of it.
Here's something to cheer you up after another Mariners loss. A couple of Red Sox fans, we think, have written a song about Manny Ramirez's little run-in with a Seattle police officer on Monday night.
No, it won't win any Grammy Awards. But it beats Milli Vanilli by a nose.