Eric Thames, acquired in a July 30 trade with Toronto for RHP Steve Delabar, whacked an opposite-field home run on the first pitch of the eighth inning Monday night, which proved to be just enough for an utterly dominant Felix Hernandez (13-5) to defeat the Minnesota Twins 1-0 and extend his brilliant stretch of starts.
Winning his ninth consecutive decision, a franchise-tying record, Hernandez allowed five hits while striking out five and walking one. He induced 18 ground-ball outs as the Mariners, who lost three one-run games in Chicago to start the road trip, snapped a three-game losing streak.
The game featured virtually no offense to speak of until Thames came to bat against the surprising Liam Hendriks to lead off the eighth inning. Thames, batting left handed, rocketed Hendriks’ first offering into the left-field seats.
“I’d had a few at-bats against him and I was finally loose,” said Thames, who hit his fourth homer since joining the club.
Following the homer, Hernandez recorded three ground-ball outs in the eighth, but faced the heart of the Minnesota order in the ninth.
Hernandez first retired catcher Joe Mauer on a slow roller to second, Hernandez’s seventh consecutive ground-ball out. After Josh Willingham reached on an infield hit into the hole between short and third, Hernandez got Justin Morneau to hit into a game-ending double play.
Hernandez has won nine consecutive decisions, matching a career high, and hasn’t been beaten since June 12 (San Diego). The shutout was his fifth (tops in the American League) of the season. Hernandez is the only pitcher in franchise history with two winning streaks of nine games (Randy Johnson had three winning streaks of eight games).
The 1-0 shutout was the fourth such performance of the season. He is the only pitcher in the majors since he came into the league in 2005 to throw four 1-0 shutouts and the third pitcher since 1969 to win four 1-0 games in a single season, joining Fergie Jenkins (1974) and Bert Blyleven (1976).
Hernandez defeated Boston 1-0 June 28, New York 1-0 Aug. 4 and Tampa Bay 1-0 Aug. 15.
Hernandez’s toughest inning was the seventh, when Morneau opened with a triple. But Hernandez got the next three Twins on ground-ball outs to escape.
The most surprising development of Monday’s game had nothing to do with Hernandez or Thames, but everything to do with Minnesota’s Hendriks.
The Minnesota right-hander entered with a record of 0-6, an ERA of 7.06, and an an 0-for-9 mark in starts attempting to win his first MLB game (also 0-for-13 for his major league career). Only twice this season had he departed a ball game with the lead. But the Mariners couldn’t do anything against him until Thames delivered his home run in the eighth.
The Mariners play the second of four against the Twins Tuesday at the Target Center. RHP Hisashi Iwakuma (4-3, 3.64) will oppose LHP Scott Diamond (10-4, 3.04). MLB suspended Diamond for six games last week for throwing behind the head of Texas’ Josh Hamilton, but Diamond appealed the punishment and MLB has yet to issue a decision.
NOTES: The Mariners finally took OF Franklin Gutierrez off the disabled list and inserted him into the starting lineup Monday. Gutierrez responded with a hit in his first at-bat and went 1-for-2 with a walk, a hit by pitch and two stolen bases. It was Gutierrez’s first game for the Mariners since June 28 . . . Eric Thames’ home run gave the Mariners a home run in 10 consecutive games. Mariners have banged 24 homers in their past 17 contests.