Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Hail King Felix

Mariners 1, Twins 0

Here's the recipe: mix two of the worst offenses in the league, one of the best pitcher's parks in the game, and two pitchers dealing strikes all evening, and you have one of the most memorable pitcher's duels of recent years. The Mariners beat the Twins in Felix Hernandez's home debut last night, 1-0, in the quickest game in the history of Safeco Field, at two hours and one minute.

Young King Felix came as advertised, with a 97 mph heater, a 12-6 curveball which he could consistently throw for strikes, and the occasional change-up, one which clocked at 69 mph as it struck out Michael Ryan. The kid pitched 8 shutout innings, allowing 5 singles but walking nobody, while he struck out 6 Twins. He had the poise and command of a veteran, although Ron Gardenhire would have none of that talk after the game.

"I think we are talking about a 97-mph fastball and a curveball," he said. "I think you can overlook the poise point. He just has great stuff."

Gardenhire said Hernandez still has to prove himself.

"That was one outing and you're talking about a kid who is 19 years old," he said.

Of course, even when Gardy is talking about other teams' prospects, Gardy has to be Gardy.

Granted, the kid will not pitch 8 shutout innings against every team he faces the rest of the season. He will make mistakes. He will lose some games. All sorts of bad luck may befall him. But, man, that kid looks like the real deal, and no apologies necessary to J.D. Durbin. Where's the "we have to tip our caps" speech, Gardy? Give it up! Pay a little tribute.

Kyle Lohse for his part had one of his very best games of the season, allowing 1 run on 4 hits and 2 walks, with 7 strikeouts, in 7 innings. Only his start against Tampa Bay on July 2 earned him a higher Game Score rating. He was working quickly and throwing strikes, looking like a man in command. Through 6 innings, only one Mariner runner even reached 2nd base. But with 2 outs in the 7th, he grooved a first pitch over the plate to Jeremy Reed, who smacked a tailing liner for a double in the Right-Center gap. Then Lohse left his first pitch to Yuniesky Betancourt hanging up over the outside half of the plate, and the young Cuban Shortstop reached out and slapped another liner into the Right-Center gap, off the wall for a triple. Lohse recovered nicely with Chris Snelling at the plate, jamming him on a full count pitch which Snelling popped up to the 2nd baseman. But that was the ballgame.

The Twins had their best chance to score in the 5th inning, when Matt LeCroy led off with a broken-bat flare into Leftfield, followed by a Jacque Jones single up the middle. However, Lew Ford bunted straight to the pitcher, and Hernandez covered it quickly and threw the ball to 3rd base for the out. When the Twins took the field in the 6th, Ford was pulled from the game although there was no injury reported in the postgame notes. Is Lew in Gardy's doghouse now?

Look at this picture, and you tell me:

The Twins still had a ripe opportunity to score with Justin Morneau at the plate, and having worked a 3-1 count. Yet he expanded his zone to swing at a pitch that may have been just off the inside corner, then struck out swinging at a pitch that seemed to be tailing off the outside corner. In that crucial spot, with the count in his favor, he didn't seem to have a clear idea of what kind of pitch he was looking for. The Strib write-up claims the Twins had a plan to be super-selective and make the teenager throw a lot of pitches, but I couldn't tell by watching. Twins batters were fishing off the plate all game. Terry Tiffee followed Morneau by reaching outside on an 0-2 pitch which he grounded to 3rd base, but he got away with it when Adrian Beltre hesitated to consider trying to tag the lead runner, then sailed the ball high when he decided to throw to 1st base. However, Jason Bartlett succumbed to the Curse of the Loaded Bases, getting jammed as he swung at the first pitch he saw and grounded out weakly to kill the scoring threat.

The Twins put a runner in scoring position one more time, with men on 1st and 2nd with 2 outs in the 8th, but Nick Punto hacked at the first pitch he saw, chopping it right back to Felix for the 3rd out. So much for the Twins offense. Our old friend Everyday Eddie came out for the 9th and notched his 28th Save, and second of the series, with an easy 1-2-3 inning.

I'm really glad to see Eddie in this series, even if he is hammering more nails in the Twins' figurative coffin. I miss watching him, I really do. The stretching and facial contortions, the huffing and puffing, the way he goes right after every hitter, his tap on top of his catcher's head after he notches another Save. There isn't anybody like him on the Twins anymore.

Get down wit' yo bad self, Eddie. Cheers to you.


At 8/10/2005 8:26 AM, Blogger amr said...

Yes, I also miss Eddie. He is great. Different pitchers seem to have different pitching attitude. Some pitch with stuff, some with guile. Eddie pitches with balls and its fun as hell to watch. If he ever is put in a game at the 'Dome, I sure hope the crowd cheers for him. "Ed-Die, Ed-Die, Ed-Die!"

At 8/10/2005 9:15 AM, Blogger Moss said...

After watching the two games, Moss believes the M's will end up with a better record than the Twinkies. Not good.

At 8/10/2005 12:28 PM, Anonymous Bremerton MOM said...

Dad and I were at the game last night and it was Super! A true pitcher's dual regardless of the ages of the guys on the mound. The kid gave a spark to Safeco Field that has been missing for a long time. The crowd was pumped and cheered on almost every batter!The radio announcers likened it to when Randy Johnson was on the mound and had his stuff really working.
Eddie's comment after the game was that he was afraid he might spoil the kid's great game. (He is on a save streak of 27 games, I think.) The Twins' Manager had a great quote about Eddie, "He's one big heart muscle." Eddie also said he didn't like pitching against his former team mates. Too many good friends.

At 8/10/2005 5:27 PM, Blogger Twinsluvver said...

I miss Eddy so dearly. Not that he was my favorite pitcher but I loved watching him stomp and scratch around. Me and some friends invented a Gaurdado drinking game which the ultimate was when he bangs his athletic cup with the baseball and everyone has to down their bottle. But alas, I dont drink.

At 8/10/2005 5:42 PM, Blogger SBG said...

Not only was he entertaining... he was a quality left hander out of the pen, something we are sorely lacking.

It's hard to fault TR for his moves following the 2003 season (except for that Stewart signing), though. Eddie needed too much cash. The acquisition of Joe Nathan has replaced Eddie as a closer quite nicely.

I like Eddie, I'm glad he got paid, I hope he does well, he did a very good job for the Twins, but it doesn't break my heart that he's no longer a Twin.

At 8/10/2005 9:25 PM, Blogger frightwig said...

TR did replace him nicely with an All-Star closer, and I understand that the Twins couldn't afford to pay $6m+ for a closer, even if he were Mariano Rivera. I just miss watching him. He's fun, and he really is all heart. It feels good rooting for a guy like him.

Eddie could join the PBA or get a fishing show after he retires, and I'd probably tune in to watch him do even that. Imagine him bowling a strike or pulling a fish into the boat! Priceless.

As I watched the game, I really was hoping for Eddie's sake that he could wrap up Felix's win without any problems. Imagine the atmosphere being sucked out of the ballpark if he'd blown the game. The people in Seattle would have never let him live it down. It would have been like Mesa blowing the lead in the Safeco Field opener, multiplied by infinity. And Eddie's about the last person in baseball who deserves that kind of fate. He locked it down, though, so all's well that ends well.

At 8/11/2005 12:11 AM, Anonymous Jim said...

Last night was a great game for both pitchers. What is really impressive about Felix is that he has not walked a batter in his first two games. He throws about twice as many strikes as balls. Most of the balls that are hit are on the ground so he has a good chance of getting double plays or keeping the runner on third from scoring. In his first game all the outs were either ground balls or strike outs. There were a few fly outs last night but there was still more ground outs.

He pitches like a young slim Eddie. Throw strikes and challenge the batter. Of course he throws about 10 mph faster than Eddie.

Have you heard who the player to be named later in the Twins - Mariner trade for Boone will be? Since Boone was cut by the Twins it probably will be the number 4 pitcher on the class A team if that good.

At 8/11/2005 6:55 PM, Blogger frightwig said...

I think they were going to announce the PTBNL in October. Probably a toolsy player with marginal stats in Class A or something.

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