MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — All King Felix needs is one.
Felix Hernandez struck out five in a five-hitter and Eric Thames hit a solo homer in the eighth inning to lift the Seattle Mariners to a 1-0 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Monday night.
Hernandez (13-5), who picked up his 23rd career complete game and ninth shutout, hasn’t lost a decision since June 12. He is 4-0 in 1-0 games this season, becoming just the third pitcher since 1969 to be that successful in 1-0 ballgames.
“He’s the real deal. That’s why he’s King Felix,” Thames said. “That’s why he’s got the Cy Young, the perfect game, all that stuff. I’m officially a believer. I’m glad he’s on my team.”
Franklin Gutierrez went 1 for 2 with two stolen bases in his first game since being sidelined June 28 because of a concussion.
Liam Hendriks (0-7) was almost King-like, but it wasn’t quite enough to get him his first career victory. He gave up three hits and struck out six in nine outstanding innings, his only blemish the homer to Thames.
“It was a good feeling, especially to know that it gave Felix a lead and once he has a lead, he’s light’s out,” Thames said. “It’s awesome.”
Joe Mauer had a single and Justin Morneau had a triple for the Twins, who have lost 14 of their last 17.
Hernandez’s brilliance came as no surprise. The Venezuelan has long been one of baseball’s best pitchers, and he’s on a roll these days even by his sterling standards as he chases a second AL Cy Young award. In his last 14 starts, he is 9-0 with a 1.40 ERA, 100 strikeouts, 17 walks and a perfect game. He’s allowed one earned run or fewer a staggering 16 times in 27 starts this season.
“I’ve been consistent the last two months,” Hernandez said. “I’ve been trying to throw strikes, been trying to get ahead of every hitter and mix all my pitches. That’s the key right now, throw strikes.”
To watch Hendriks, a 23-year-old Aussie who hasn’t picked up a win in 14 career starts and has been sent back down to Triple-A twice this season, match King Felix pitch for pitch through seven innings was something entirely unexpected. He needed just 68 pitches to get through six innings against the free-swinging Mariners before Thames got him in the eighth.
Gutierrez singled in the first inning, a welcome sight for a Mariners offense that has missed his right-handed bat in the lineup and his glove in center field. But the mental part of his recovery from the concussion he suffered when he was hit on the ear by a pickoff attempt against Boston is ongoing.
When Hendriks tried to pick him off two pitches later, Gutierrez gingerly scurried back to first base, protecting his head with his right hand. Later in the sixth, Hendriks buzzed him with a pitch up and in that appeared to hit Gutierrez on the hand, and the outfielder wasn’t happy as he stomped off to first base.
“Every time he was throwing over, I was having flashbacks,” Gutierrez said. “I think it’s going to take time. Every time I remembered what happened. It’s going to take a while to forget about that. Every time I go to first base, you’re going to see me try to protect my face and whatever I can. It’s going to take time.”
He took an extra-base hit away from Trevor Plouffe in the third, ranging to the wall in left-center and leaping to grab it as Plouffe just shook his head. Hernandez grinned as he watched his center fielder haul it in, hinting that another magical night could be in the offing.
Not exactly perfect, he walked Josh Willingham in the second inning, but he was carving up the Twins and kept a no-hitter going until Mauer singled with two outs in the fourth inning. The Twins had two on in the fifth and Morneau led off the seventh with a triple before Hernandez steeled himself and got Ryan Doumit, Plouffe and Jamey Carroll to ground out and keep Minnesota scoreless.
“That’s why he’s one of the best, if not the best, in the league,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
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