On short notice, it’s impossible to conduct an adequate autopsy on a pitcher who has thrown a perfect game, flirted with several no-hitters, tossed 160 ultra quality starts, is annually in the Cy Young Award conversation and then, inexplicably, suffers the kind of meltdown Felix Hernandez endured Friday night in Houston. So for now, we’ll leave the coroner’s report to former NBA-er Danny Ainge.
“Nobody wants to admit it,” Ainge once remarked, “but we all choke at one time or another.”
Tough to tell whether Felix choked, or whether some other perverse psychological state, triggered by pressure, fatigue, bad meal or bad song playing in his head, was responsible for the Minute Maid Park debacle against a Houston team that lost seven consecutive games. But it was an epic implosion by any measurement and one that will forever rank among the strangest and most abysmal in franchise history.
There have been 29 instances since the club’s inaugural outing April 6, 1977 against the California Angels in the Kingdome, wherein Seattle’s starting pitcher managed to get one no outs. Two of the 29 clunkers leap immediately to mind.
On May 3, 1977, Frank MacCormack, whose Mariner career spanned all of three games, took the hill against Boston and didn’t make it past three batters, walking two, hitting one and throwing a wild pitch. Over the next month, the Mariners demoted MacCormack five rungs down in their organization until he found himself pitching in late June for the rookie Baby M’s in Bellingham. MacCormack never made it back to the bigs.
Eleven years later, on April 6, 1988, Steve “Rainbow” Trout tossed a 29-pitch farce in Oakland in which he walked five, threw two wild pitches, plunked a hitter and made a throwing error while failing to survive a first inning that rendered pitching coach Billy Connors practically apoplectic.
“My man just vapor-locked,” Connors lamented. “Boy, was he bad! He was ca-ca! He had no clue! He was hitting guys on 0-2 pitches and not even hurting them.”
King Felix pretty much split the difference between MacCormack and Trout. He trailed 3-0 before he recorded his only out, a strikeout of rookie shortstop Carlos Correa, and left after 31 pitches in an 8-0 abyss. His line: 0.1 IP, 5 hits, 8 runs, 8 earned, 2 walks, 1 strikeout, 2 home runs and much cussing, as TV images showed.
At least Felix didn’t hit anybody or fling the ball into the backstop. On the other hand, his throwing error sent two Houston runners scurrying across the plate.
Horrible comparison, but true: Seattle’s backup catcher, Jesus Sucre, had a better inning than Fernandez when he threw the eighth: 1 hit and zero runs while recording three outs on seven pitches.
Statistically, Felix’s outing is the worst by a Mariners’ starter since Sept. 15, 2007, when the still-galling Horacio Ramirez threw 27 pitches against Tampa Bay and failed to register an out. Six months earlier, on April 18, in the previous worst start of his career, Felix lasted just 25 pitches after permitting three earned runs in the first inning against Minnesota.
But Friday scraped the barrel. In the 30 games over 38+ seasons in which a Seattle starter failed to record more than one out, none permitted more earned runs than Felix did against the Astros.
|2015||June 12||Felix Hernandez||Hou||0.1||8||2 walks, 2 HRs, 31 pitches|
|1982||April 28||Mike Moore||Clev||0.1||6||Allowed 4 hits in 6-1 loss|
|1985||June 8||Jim Beattie||Clev||0.1||6||6 hits, 1 HR in 12-8 loss|
|1986||June 26||Lee Guetterman||Tex||0.1||6||2 homers in 10-3 defeat|
|1987||April 20||Mike Morgan||Minn||0.0||6||Also 2 walks in 6-1 loss|
|1995||May 22||Bob Wells||Det||0.0||6||Lasted just 23 pitches|
|1997||July 3||Derek Lowe||SD||0.1||6||Also 3 walks, 1 homer|
The silver lining, such as it is, is that Felix at least recorded an out. His strikeout of Correa kept him from becoming the eighth pitcher in club history to start a game and not get anybody out. MacCormack was the first and Bob Wells (May 22, 1995) the most recent.
With that silver lining comes two dark clouds. Felix is only the second past winner of the Cy Young award to allow eight runs in a start of no more than 0.1 innings. The other was 1971 Cy Young winner Ferguson Jenkins, who allowed eight while pitching for the Rangers against he Yankees July 10, 1980.
The other dark cloud is that Felix’s 0.1-inning flameout comes less than two weeks after his “muddy cleats” start against the Yankees in which, when the Safeco Field roof didn’t close fast enough, he allowed seven earned runs in a rainy 4.2 innings. Coupled with Friday, that’s enough to lose a Cy Young award.
Friday was an obvious aberration. But it also demonstrated just how fragile are pitchers even with The King’s track record.