Being a pitcher, especially in the American League, can seem like a thankless job. You work alone on the mound, trying to prevent the home runs that everyone want to see; thanks to the designated hitter, you can’t even step up to the plate to try to help your own cause. But that challenging role gives players a chance to make their name as stars.
One of those stars is Felix Hernandez who, for the past 15 seasons, has anchored the Seattle Mariners pitching rotation. With King Felix likely moving on from the club, if not professional baseball entirely, there’s no better time to revisit some of the moments that defined his career.
The perfect game
There’s no where else to begin. On August 15, 2012, Hernandez threw the 23rd perfect game in MLB history. While his performance was obviously commanding and included eight strikeouts in the final four innings, the pitcher’s reaction was just as memorable.
After the final out, Hernandez kissed the tattoos of his children before he was mobbed by his teammates. For a player who had plenty of individual awards , it was clear how much the moment meant to him. It was a performance that added King Felix’s name to the record books, where it deserved to be.
Going yard in grand style
As an American League pitcher, Hernandez didn’t get too many chances to swing a bat. While most of his plate appearances ended in meek outs, one trip to the dish was different.
In June, 2008 the Mariners faced the New York Mets in Interleague Play, meaning Hernandez got a chance to show his stuff. He didn’t waste a moment, belting a grand slam off Johan Santana.
After the game, reporters asked King Felix how he managed the feat. “My approach? Just swing. I closed my eyes,” Hernandez explained. “I was happy and I was thinking that’s all I need — four runs.” Thankfully, those runs were enough as the Mariners won the game 5-2.
Claiming his crown against the Boston Red Sox
When the Mariners met the Boston Red Sox in April 2011, Daisuke Matsuzaka was the main attraction. The Japanese pitcher had just arrived in North America and baseball fans were anxious to see what he could do. Hernandez, however, had other plans.
The 21-year-old dominated the game, throwing a one-hit shutout while striking out six Red Sox. Matsuzaka was supposed to be the next big pitcher, but the Mariners stud stole the show; it was a reminder of just easily Hernandez could take over any game. David Ortiz simply called him “impossible” to face.
Pitching without the playoffs
On the last day of the 2014 season, Hernandez got the start. While the Mariners had a chance to steal the second wild-card spot, it was an uphill climb. While the pitcher did his part, it wasn’t enough; his team didn’t get any external help and was eliminated from contention during the game.
When Hernandez stepped out of the dugout in at the start of the sixth inning, he knew the season was over. After pitching to the next batter, he was withdrawn to a standing ovation; the fans knew he had given everything, but even that wasn’t enough.
Sadly, that moment was emblematic of Hernandez’ career. For all of his great moments and dominant statistical performances, it’s a shame he never got a chance for postseason glory.