Had carpetbagger Clay Bennett never occupied the planet, or if Howard Schultz told Bennett to get lost when he had the chance, Seattle fans would have been treated to one of the greatest days in the citys sporting history Monday. The dilemma: which to watch?
At Safeco Field Monday night, when the Mariners launch a six-game homestand following three out-of-nowhere victories at Coors Field, Felix Hernandez will match throws with 25-year-old phenom Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers. A better regular-season pitching matchup is difficult to fathom.
Hernandez we know about. Darvish, in his first year with the Rangers, has yet to complete a full lap around the American League. But the 6-foot-5 former Japanese All-Star is already an early Cy Young candidate at 6-1, 2.60 ERA, 1.32 WHIP.
Darvish, who beat the Mariners 11-5 in a less-than-stellar effort April 11 (his first major league game), fanned at least seven batters (high of 10) in each of his past five starts after striking out 14 and walking 13 in his first three. Thats the longest string of seven-strikeout games by a Texas pitcher since Bobby Witt in 1987.
Key for Darvish, as it is for most pitchers, is strike one. When Darvish delivers it, opponents hit .146 off him. When he delivers ball one, opponents bat .308 off him.
Or, to look at it another way: A first-pitch strike by Darvish has resulted in 46 strikeouts. But a first-pitch ball has resulted in only 12 strikeouts.
Through eight starts, Darvish has averaged 10 strikeouts per nine innings, Randy Johnson in-his-prime territory. Hernandez, a former Cy Young winner, averages 8.8.
Compelling as the Hernandez-Darvish duel, at approximately the same time they square off ,the Oklahoma City Thunder will contest the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 4 of their Western Conference playoff series.
Without the Bennett-Schultz shenanigans of 2008 that resulted in the Sonics leap to Oklahoma City, the Sonics would be up 3-1 in the best-of-seven series with three chances to finish off Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
Considering the Sonics last ousted the Lakers from a playoff series in 1979, and have themselves been bounced from the postseason by Los Angeles six times since (most recently in 2010, playing as the Thunder), the prospect of the Sonics shooing the Lakers into vacation for the first time in 32 years trumps Hernandez vs. Darvish.
Had the Sonics not relocated, Seattle would be gripped in a huge, delightful basketball frenzy, perhaps the biggest since 1996 when Gary Payton and Michael Jordan met in the NBA Finals.
But, thanks to Sonicsgate, Kevin Durant, et al, no longer call Seattle home as the former Sonics march to what could become the franchises first NBA title since 1979.
Which makes us wonder whether you still care, no longer care, or never did. Input and comments urged and appreciated: