SEATTLE – The sight of fictitious Larry Bernandez throwing out the ceremonial first pitch gave a pretty good indication this night would belong to pitchers.
And it pretty much did once Mariners ace Felix Hernandez – dressed as his alter ego from team television commercials – had concluded the pregame festivities Saturday night by tossing a ball to a look-alike fan. Michael Pineda looked as good as he has in quite some time, but Chicago White Sox counterpart John Danks was even better in handing the Mariners a 3-0 loss.
Danks tied his career high with 10 strikeouts while holding the Mariners to just three hits in notching his second career shutout.
“You see why he’s had so much success,” said Kyle Seager, who had one of the three Seattle hits. “He’s a tough guy to pick up. He had good stuff and he locates it very well.”
Pineda did all of those things for the Mariners as well. His eight strikeouts against just one walk, while allowing only three hits over six innings, represented as good an outing as he has had in more than a month.
But the fact that all three hits came in consecutive fashion in the fourth inning assured that he would again fail to notch his 10th win of the season. Pineda had retired nine in a row before Juan Pierre bunted for a single, followed by a single from Alejandro De Aza and a blooper into left field by Paul Konerko that opened the scoring.
Alexei Ramirez added a sacrifice fly after that to make it 2-0. That was all the damage the White Sox would muster off Pineda, who has enjoyed consecutive strong outings. De Aza closed out the scoring in the eighth by drilling a Chance Ruffin pitch just out of Ichiro Suzuki’s reach into the right-field seats.
The crowd of 30,522 at Safeco Field on Larry Bernandez Bobblehead Night saw the best Mariners scoring chance fizzle in the sixth on pinpoint pitching by Danks. With two on and one out, Danks caught Franklin Gutierrez staring at a third strike at the knees, then retired Dustin Ackley to end Seattle’s last real hope.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge, who had seen Danks plenty of times while with the American League Central rival Cleveland Indians, said the southpaw was at his absolute best and probably the toughest left-hander faced by Seattle this year.
“He just had a feel for it,” Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan said. “I think of (Gutierrez), those balls he was spotting right at the knees, he was spotting them so well it’s hard not to call them strikes.”
Ryan could also appreciate the work of his own pitcher. He liked how Pineda kept working the Chicago hitters both inside and outside, mixing in a change-up to the left-handers while keeping his slider down. Ryan also said he could see some “running sink” on the fastballs with which Pineda kept busting hitters inside.
That’s something Pineda had gone into the game hoping to do. This time, unlike some other occasions in the second half, he pretty much executed his plan to perfection.
“I know it’s a long season,” he said. “But I’ve been working hard every day so I can finish strong in the last month. I want to finish the season stronger. I feel strong now.”
The Mariners plan to keep Pineda feeling that way. He’d thrown only 101 pitches when lifted from the game and under normal circumstances would likely have completed a seventh inning.