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Hernandez pitches Mariners over Yankees

NEW YORK – Felix Hernandez watched with delight as Russell Branyan’s drive in the first inning landed in the New York Yankees’ bullpen for a three-run homer – and some rare run support.

“It was like, ‘Yeah!’” Hernandez said. “Now you got to do your job.”

Oh, he did, giving up four hits in eight innings to lift the Seattle Mariners to a 6-0 victory Friday night and just miss becoming the first pitcher in more than 25 years to throw four straight complete games against the Yankees.

Mariners interim manager Daren Brown, who improved to 7-3 with the club, didn’t consider giving his 24-year-old ace a shot at the ninth because he threw 117 pitches.

“Nope. Nope. I’ve said it before: This kid’s valuable to our future. I’d love to get him an opportunity to go back out if he could keep his pitches down a little bit,” Brown said. “Hopefully sometime down the road the game will have a lot bigger meaning and maybe we’ll think about letting him go.”

Branyan also homered in the sixth off A.J. Burnett and drove in four runs to help Seattle win its third in a row. It was Branyan’s 14th multihomer game and second this year.

Hat slightly askew as usual, Hernandez kept New York off-kilter, striking out 11. He was lifted for Garrett Olson, who pitched a perfect ninth to finish the Mariners’ eighth shutout.

The Mariners needed just 11 pitches to take a comfortable 3-0 lead, the most runs they’ve scored when Hernandez started since July 16 – three runs. Ichiro Suzuki singled, Chone Figgins walked and Branyan hit a 2-1 pitch for a homer before Burnett (9-11) got an out.

“It’s a lot nicer to score early and watch him relax and settle into his groove,” Branyan said of Hernandez.

Coming in, Hernandez (9-10) was 1-4 with a 2.04 ERA in his five previous outings, with Seattle scoring four runs.

“I thought (it was) real big with Felix jumping out and getting three runs on the board early,” Brown said.

King Felix pitched a two-hitter June 30 in New York and went the distance in Seattle on July 10. He also had a complete game against the Yankees on Sept. 8 at Safeco Field. Toronto’s Dave Stieb went the whole way in four consecutive starts against the Yankees from 1983-84.

Hernandez hasn’t allowed an earned run in his last three starts. Despite his losing record, the right-hander lowered his ERA to 2.51, second-best in the A.L.