SEATTLE — Felix Hernandez walked off the mound in the ninth inning knowing the gem he just tossed was one of the best outings of his career.
Yet he still stood on the top step of the Seattle Mariners’ dugout in the ninth inning begging for a run to make sure this brilliant effort came in a win.
“Just score one run. One run is all I need,” Hernandez thought as the bottom of the ninth started.
Thanks to John Jaso and Casper Wells, Hernandez got his deserved victory.
Hernandez matched his career high with 13 strikeouts in a brilliant five-hitter and Jaso’s pinch-hit single in the bottom of the ninth scored Wells to give the Mariners a 1-0 win over the Boston Red Sox on Thursday night.
Hernandez (6-5) tossed his fifth career shutout and was one of the first out of the Mariners dugout after Wells belly-flopped onto home plate with the only run.
“Tonight is as good as I’ve ever seen him,” Seattle manager Eric Wedge said. “Against a lot of veteran hitters, a lot of good hitters, and a 0-0 ballgame like that, you couldn’t ask for anything more.”
It was the third straight start where Hernandez looked more like the Cy Young winner he was in 2010. It was his 19th career 10-strikeout game and the first time he’s ever struck out at least 10 in consecutive starts. The last Mariners pitcher to accomplish that was Freddy Garcia back in 1999.
His fastball was moving late and his breaking balls had bite. It was the third time in his career Hernandez struck out 13, the most recent coming on May 22, 2011, at San Diego.
“That’s the best we’ve seen. He was unreal. His stuff was moving all over the place,” Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “He kept the ball out of the middle of the plate. He was pretty special tonight.”
The only time Hernandez was tested came in the ninth. It was quite the challenge.
Hernandez struck out Pedroia on a 3-2 pitch to open the ninth inning. David Ortiz responded with a line drive back up the middle on a hanging curveball that sent Hernandez sprawling to avoid the shot. He got ahead of Saltalamacchia 1-2, but missed on the edges and walked him on a 3-2 pitch, allowing a runner to second base for just the third time in the game.
Newly acquired Brent Lillibridge pinch-ran for Ortiz, with Adrian Gonzalez coming to the plate. Hernandez almost instantly fell behind Gonzalez 3-0, but fought back to 3-2 before Gonzalez fouled off the next four pitches. On the ninth pitch, Gonzalez hit a shot to deep left-center that Michael Saunders chased down just before the wall. Will Middlebrooks then popped out and Hernandez was left waiting to see if the Mariners offense could get him a run.
“That’s one of the only parks that holds that ball,” Boston manager Bobby Valentine said of Gonzalez’s shot.
Seattle’s ninth-inning rally started after Jesus Montero weakly flied out to open the inning. Wells lined a double into the gap in left-center and Boston followed by surprisingly issuing an intentional walk to Justin Smoak, who had just one hit in his previous 13 at-bats. That decision also allowed Wedge to use Jaso instead of Miguel Olivo with the Red Sox out of left-handers in the bullpen.
Jaso, who already led the team in game-winning RBIs didn’t’ waste time. Jaso’s hard single into right field gave Ross enough time to field the ball and make a strong throw to the plate. Saltalamacchia appeared to have plenty of time to apply the tag, but reacted with disgust when he saw the ball on the ground.
“I think it’s just having a calm approach, you can really start to come out of your shoes and try to do more than what you normally do, what your normal approach is,” Jaso said. “I think treat it like a first or second AB of the game, just looking for a pitch you can hit.”
Wells’ double and winning run capped a night where he was a star both at the plate and in the field. Boston batters tested Wells twice in the eighth inning.
He took away a hit from Mike Aviles with a sliding catch for the second out of the inning. Moments later, Wells was racing toward the left-field corner and made an even better backhanded sliding catch while crashing into the padded wall for the final out of the inning.
Aviles was the only batter in the Red Sox lineup that Hernandez did not strike out at least once.
“This year, this is the best game that I’ve thrown,” Hernandez said. “I was throwing a lot of strikes and all the pitches were working.”
NOTES: Seattle CF Franklin Gutierrez left after a single in the fourth inning when he was hit in the face on a pick-off attempt. … Boston OF Jacoby Ellsbury and OF Scott Podsednik will both begin rehab assignments Friday. Ellsbury will be with the Red Sox’s rookie league club in the Gulf Coast League, while Podsednik will begin his rehab at Triple-A Pawtucket. … Seattle’s first-round draft pick, Mike Zunino, won the Johnny Bench award on Thursday night as the top catcher in college baseball.