June 25, 2011 in Sports

Felix a hit in every way in Mariners’ victory

Kirby Arnold Everett Herald
 
Associated Press photo

Felix Hernandez fired up his “King’s Court.”
(Full-size photo)

SEATTLE – Felix Hernandez had done his part.

He’d thrown 115 pitches, held the Florida Marlins to two hits and a run, and even contributed a base hit Friday night in the rarest of Seattle Mariners home games.

But with two outs in the top of the ninth and the No. 9 hitter due on deck in an interleague game played without the DH, Hernandez hopped out of the dugout with his batting helmet, batting gloves and bat. When Franklin Gutierrez lined a single to continue the inning, Mariners manager Eric Wedge had the final say.

He sent Jack Cust out to pinch hit, and Hernandez finally took a seat.

The Mariners finished off a 5-1 victory with closer Brandon League getting the final three outs in a bottom of the ninth.

“Felix is the only guy you’d even consider sending back out (for the ninth) in that situation,” Wedge said. “I wasn’t crazy about it with (115) pitches, but he’s working on an extra day’s rest and he’s certainly capable of it.”

Unlike Tuesday when the Nationals whacked League and reliever David Pauley to score five runs in the ninth to win, League retired the Marlins 1-2-3 to finish a strange night at Safeco Field.

The Mariners are the visiting team all weekend after this series, originally scheduled for Florida, was moved to Seattle because of a scheduling conflict at the Marlins’ home stadium. U2 is setting up for a concert there next week.

The games are played under National League rules – without the DH – and the M’s are wearing their road gray uniforms.

The crowd was on the smallish side (15,279) because tickets aren’t part of the Mariners’ regular-season package. But among those in the ballpark was the newly created “King’s Court” section of 1,000 fans who occupied three sections in the left-field corner. They partied hard and chanted harder in a game that was close until the final three innings.

Behaving like a rowdy college basketball crowd, the King’s Court shouted for Hernandez all night, especially when he’d get two strikes on a hitter.

But when Miguel Olivo batted in the ninth, with the Mariners nursing a 3-1 lead, they sent echoes through the stadium with their “O-Oleeee-Vo!” chant. Five pitches into the at-bat, Olivo delivered a  two-run homer just inside the left-field foul pole.

“They were loud and good,” Hernandez said. “That O-Oleeee-Vo! That was awesome. I think he must have been fired up by it.”

Olivo’s homer, his 12th this season to tie Justin Smoak for the team lead, eased the tension of a game that was close throughout.

Hernandez got the game’s first hit, an opposite-field single in the third inning off Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco. The Mariners’ scoreless streak had reached 20 innings when Brendan Ryan drew a leadoff walk in the seventh and Adam Kennedy singled to put runners at first and third. After that, the Mariners pulled off what Wedge described as the key play of the game – and it resulted in a Mariners out.

Smoak hit a sharp grounder to first and Ryan was trapped in a rundown between third and home. The Marlins tagged him out, but not until after Ryan had stayed in the rundown long enough for Kennedy and Smoak to reach second and third.

Olivo followed with an RBI ground out to tie the score, and Gutierrez delivered a two-run single to give the Mariners a 3-1 lead.

“What do you want me to say? I got in a rundown,” Ryan said. “It lasted a minute and a half. That’s the time it takes to get Smoak to second base.”

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