ANAHEIM, Calif. — This was the kind of outing that didn’t do Felix Hernandez and his Cy Young Award chances any favors.
Then again, if not for a Seattle Mariners error on a Hernandez throw in the fifth inning, it could have been a whole lot worse. Hernandez yielded seven runs over 6-1/3 innings in a 7-4 loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Saturday night, but only four of those runs wound up being earned.
None of the three runs Hernandez allowed in the fifth inning counted toward his league-best earned-run average, which rose from 2.30 to 2.39, because of the error by Josh Wilson on Hernandez’s throw and a prior throwing gaffe by Jose Lopez. Hernandez was close to getting out of things with his ERA barely changed at all, until he left with two on and one out in the seventh and then saw Jamey Wright yield a bases-clearing double.
So, while Seattle wound up securing a seventh consecutive series loss, Hernandez did not suffer a lethal blow in what’s expected to be a tight Cy Young race with C.C. Sabathia of the New York Yankees. Sabathia is almost certain to top the 20-win mark, while Hernandez remains stuck with an 11-11 record with only four starts remaining.
Hernandez battled most of the night in front of 39,123 at Angel Stadium, who saw him yield six hits and three walks in his 114-pitch performance. And yet, until Wright gave up the double, Hernandez was positioned for his league-best 28th quality start and would have actually lowered his ERA slightly.
Seattle had gone 12 innings without a run and trailed 7-0 in the eighth when Ichiro launched a three-run homer just beyond the right-field fence. That spelled the end of the night for Ervin Santana, who had stymied the Mariners on three hits through seven scoreless innings before the eighth.
But the game had already been decided in the fifth inning, when the Angels, already up 2-0, struck for three unearned markers off Hernandez.
The error by Wilson came on a Hernandez throw that appeared ill-advised at the time and might not have gotten the lead runner out even if the shortstop had held on to the ball. Hernandez had picked up a Jeff Mathis bunt, but runner Howie Kendrick — who’d reached on Lopez’s throwing error — appeared to arrive at the same time as the ball.
Peter Bourjos then dropped a perfect bunt up the third-base line to load the bases with none out. Hernandez got a force-out at home plate, then a ground out that scored a third Angels run.
But the big blow was a two-run single by Torii Hunter with two outs that made it a 5-0 game.
Hernandez did strike out five batters to regain the American League lead in that category, 214 to 211 over Angels counterpart Jered Weaver in a seesaw battle that should go down to the very end of the season. The 6-1/3 frames tossed by Hernandez also increased his already sizable lead in that category to 225-2/3.
The next closest competitor in innings is Sabathia at 209, so it’s almost impossible that Hernandez will be caught in that category. And while Hernandez’s ERA took a blow, it wasn’t as bad as what happened to Clay Buchholz of the Red Sox on Friday night, when he was pummeled early and saw his league-best ERA soar from 2.25 to 2.53.
Sabathia also got pounded his last time out and saw his ERA climb to 3.14. But other than Sabathia, the only pitcher remotely close to he and Hernandez in ERA, strikeouts and innings pitched is 17-game-winner David Price of the Rays, who has a 2.87 ERA with 178-2/3 innings and 163 strikeouts.
But barring a total collapse by Hernandez, there is no way Price catches him in any of those categories. And with Sabathia still ahead of Price in wins, innings and strikeouts — and relatively close in ERA — it’s still safe to assume this will be a two-man race between the Yankees’ big man and Hernandez the rest of the way.
And while Hernandez indeed stumbled, worse than he has in some time, he did not cause himself any serious harm. That is, outside of a low win total no one really expects to get much higher with a Mariners offense as bad as it was for the first seven innings.