The matchup of the year for M's fans pitted history versus the future. The Big Unit was in town to take on King Felix.
Randy Johnson, the Southern California native and 6-foot-10 southpaw who at age 41 can still sling it at speeds clocked in the mid-90s, tossed seven scoreless frames at his former club, allowing just three hits and two walks while striking out seven.
Hernandez, the teen sensation from Venezuela and 22 years Johnson's junior, went eight strong innings allowing just four hits, but two of those were solo home runs. The right-hander whiffed seven Yankees, including Hideki Matsui twice and Derek Jeter and former M's star Alex Rodriguez once each.
Robinson Cano and Gary Sheffield hit the long balls, Cano's in the third inning, Sheffield's in the fourth.
Johnson did not allow a hit until Yuniesky Betancourt doubled to left in the sixth.
The M's best chance to score came in the seventh when Adrian Beltre reached on an infield single with one out and Jose Lopez singled sharply to center. But Michael Morse, making his second straight start in left field, lined out to center and Yorvit Torrealba grounded into a fielder's choice.
The most important thing to me in tonight's game was the fact that Felix Hernandez did not back down from the most feared franchise in sports history. The money, the star-studded lineup, the road grey and black and the gaudy number that the Yankees parade up and down their batting order couldn't rattle the kid.
Even the two long balls – just pitches left a little higher in the strike zone than Felix would want and that is going to happen sometimes. His four walks were a good sign that he wasn't as sharp as he has been but he picked himself up when he needed to.
On the negative side, the M's bats are ridiculously overmatched anytime a pitcher can reach 94 or 95 on the radar gun. Granted, Johnson is still a very good pitcher who was probably pumped up a bit to be back in Seattle pitching, but he isn't the Cy Young version of the Big Unit that has wreaked havoc on baseball over the past 12 years. He's hittable and the Mariners are just incapable of doing it.
This is another signal that suggests the M's are still two bats short of a legitimate lineup – one a power-laden run producer, the other a guy that can get on base and hit the gaps with doubles.
To sum it up, Felix is more than the real deal. He's The Franchise. And the M's need to concentrate on more than arms this winter – that offense is still pathetic. Hernandez can't win 1-0, or 2-1 every time out.
I can't believe the optimism here, but I am always excited to see Felix pitch, no matter who it is against. He proved tonight that it doesn't matter who is in the lineup – he can dominate.
The most important thing that happened tonight was the three hits the offense mustered up. When are the Mariners going to find some hitters that can hit in any park? Sexson is fine and I believe Beltre will be, too, but it's frustrating that the lineup being used everyday is STILL as bad as it is.
Watching Morse, Betancourt, Lopez and Strong hit tonight was fun, with two of them getting hits versus Randy Johnson. A breathe of fresh air at Safeco Field is seeing the average age of the team plummet since the all-star break.
Not having to watch Bret Boone, Pat Borders, Dan Wilson, Scott Spiezio and other fodder take the field every day gives me hope that the franchise has a chance to be successful.
Here's a question for the masses – If the Mariners raised ticket prices this offseason, pretty significantly, would you be upset? Or would you wait to see what they did with payroll?
Personally, the M's need to be very fan friendly until this team wins 90 games again. Expecting the millions to keep coming with higher prices is like Al-Qaeda leaders asking the new pope to join them – even though they stand for opposite things. Or something like that.
Jason A. Churchill
The most important thing that happened tonight was obviously Felix Hernandez pitching well against one of baseball's best offensive lineups. But I saw something interesting late in the game that got me thinking.
Mike Hargrove went for Matt Thornton to face Jason Giambi, who was 2-for-4 off Thornton lifetime with two mammoth home runs, one in Monday night's loss.
I was a little bit perturbed about the move, but before Thornton threw his first pitch I thought to myself ‘if Thornton succeeds here, Grover earns a few stripes for laying into a young pitcher for walking a guy after serving up a bomb, and then going right back to him in the same series versus the same set of hitters he faced the first game.'
What Hargrove did in showing confidence in Thornton will go a long way for the kids on this roster. If you fail when the opposing team just outperformed you, that's fine. If you fail because your effort level did not match or exceed that of your opponent, you have failed in the worst way. Thornton got Giambi to fly out and those stripes grew on Hargroves wool hat. The skipper showed confidence in a pitcher that he had little reason to actually have any confidence in, especially against Giambi.
Even with the 2-0 loss, Thornton has to be feeling good about himself, and the other youngsters must take notice that Grover is someone to trust and someone they can learn from.
Down in the bay area, the talk wasn't about the A's and it definitely wasn't about the Giants trade of Deivi Cruz to the Nationals... believe it or not the topic around the water coolers was about The Unit vs. The King.
I came home and watched the game over the computer, battling the occasional frozen picture and muffled audio to see a pitching matchup that lived up to the hype. Neihaus said all that needed to be said at the start of the game, "It's a clear night here in Seattle but it figures to be hazy in Safeco Field with all the smoke that's going to be thrown."
Felix, 22 years the junior of Randy, came out throwing gas. Not periodic gas, but that of the consistent, high-octane, $3.25 premium stuff - 98 mph gas.
It's tempting to call this The King's worst big league start - four walks in eight innings after five in his first 37 was a bit disappointing and uncharacteristic - but a further look at the box score and the stats aren't all that bad.
Both runs came off of solo homers. Only four hits allowed. And seven strikeouts against one of the most feared lineups in all of baseball.
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