The most shocking development of the Mariners’ 5-0 victory at Tampa Bay Sunday was not the career-high 15 strikeouts by Felix Hernandez, or even that Hernandez came away with a no-decision, but that Seattle launched its five-run, game-winning rally in the ninth with two outs and an 0-and-2 count on Brad Miller, hitting a sub-Mendoza .169.
Against Rays closer Grant Balfour, Miller lasered a triple down the right-field line. After Willie Bloomquist walked, Endy Chavez guided a ground ball past Tampa shortstop Yunel Escobar and into left field, scoring Miller. James Jones followed with another triple — again, on an 0-and-2 count — plating Bloomquist and Chavez for a 3-0 lead.
Kyle Seager’s double to right, coupled with a Tampa error, scored Jones and Robinson Cano, who walked. That sealed the Mariners’ seventh win in eight games and 14th in their past 20. Seattle (33-29) is four games above .500 for the first time this season.
Seeking what would have been a career-high and franchise-record tying sixth consecutive win, Hernandez owned the Rays for most of the seven innings he worked. In addition to his 15 strikeouts, two more than his career best, done three times ( last June 28, 2012 vs. Boston), Hernandez walked one batter and allowed only four balls out of the infield.
“Outstanding again,” said manager Lloyd McClendon. “Today, my catcher was outstanding as well, and probably saved the game for us.”
With Hernandez and Chris Archer locked in an 0-0 duel, Hernandez in the seventh ceded an infield single to Ben Zobrist. After David DeJesus fanned looking, Zobrist took second on a stolen base and went to third on a wild pitch. But Hernandez fanned Joyce on a changeup for his 14th strikeout, and Escobar for his 15th.
During the Joyce and Escobar at-bats, catcher Mike Zunino made two key blocks on low Hernandez pitches in the dirt that could have scored Zobrist.
“He blocked his ass off,” McClendon said of Zunino. “He was pretty darned good. He saved us.”
After Hernandez escaped the seventh, the only time the Rays came close to scoring, McClendon replaced him with Yoervis Medina, who worked an unscathed eighth and earned the victory.
“Felix used everything he had to get us out of the seventh,” said McClendon. “Usually you have a letdown the following inning and I didn’t want that to happen. I’d seen enough.”
Hernandez, who threw 100 pitches and lowered his ERA to 2.39, might have become the first Seattle pitcher since Joel Pineiro (June 16-July 13, 2003) to win six consecutive starts if Tampa’s Chris Archer hadn’t blanked the Mariners for 6.1 innings. In the fifth, Seattle loaded the bases with one out but couldn’t finish, Jones hitting a ground-ball out and Cano flying deep to Joyce against the fence in left.
“Felix was out there throwing zeroes and we wanted to get him the win,” said Miller, whose triple came two innings too late to help Hernandez win. “But you also have to tip your hat to Archer.”
Hernandez, who recorded eight of his 15 strikeouts with changeups, has fanned eight in more in four consecutive starts and has three double-digit strikeout performances this season. His 15 Ks marked the 22nd time that a Seattle pitcher had that many or more, and was the first 15-strikeout game by a starter since July 11, 1998 when Randy Johnson blanked the Angels 2-0.
The Mariners rapped out 10 hits, two each by Chavez, Jones and Cole Gillespie, and had three of their four hits with runners in scoring position in the ninth.
I thought Felix had better stuff today than when he was perfect against us in 2012.
— Joe Maddon (@RaysJoeMaddon) June 8, 2014
NOTES: Hernandez became the second Mariners pitcher to surpass 1,800 career strikeouts. He has 1,809. Johnson had 2,162 between 1989-98 . . .Hernandez had 12 strikeouts through six innings. Only two Mariners had 12 or more through six: Johnson, 13 vs. Detroit July 21, 1992, and Chris Bosio, 12 vs. Detroit, April 18, 1993. Johnson and Bosio lost those games . . . McClendon did not use Justin Smoak (sore quad) until the ninth as a defensive replacement and did not use Michael Saunders (sore right shoulder).
NEXT: The Mariners close out their three-team, eight-game, seven-day road trip Monday with the fourth of four against the Rays. RHP Erasmo Ramirez (1-4, 6.82) will work for Seattle opposite LHP David Price (4-5, 4.03). The Mariners return to Safeco Field Tuesday to begin a three-team home stand against the Yankees, Rangers and Padres.