HOUSTON – Nothing like having one pitching ace race around the clubhouse postgame in search of inducting the future one into the fold.
At least that’s a storyline the Mariners would certainly like to see touted as Felix Hernandez, beer in-hand, headed back to the field Friday night to find fellow pitcher Taijuan Walker.
Arguably the most hyped Mariners mound prospect since Hernandez, Walker had just beaten the Houston Astros, 7-1, in his major league debut Friday and was giving a televised interview live on MLB Network when the current ace struck.
Hernandez doused the barely-drinking-age Walker with his first of plenty of sudsy shampoo to come. Later, after his teammates had dragged him to the clubhouse showers for more, Walker reflected on what it meant to have finally arrived where he wants to be.
“I had a lot of fun,” said Walker, who came out after five innings on a 70-pitch limit. “I’m glad the first one’s out of the way. My family was there, so, I had a good time.”
His mother, Nellie Garcia, who had raised Walker and his siblings alone as a teenager, had flown in from upstate New York to be among the 13,869 at Minute Maid Park. And Walker’s new extended family, a nation of diehard, beaten-down Mariners supporters seeking any positive news they could find, had tuned in for this one with plenty of interest.
They saw Walker, who turned 21 just a few weeks ago, toss five solid innings against a terrible Astros squad. With a little luck, he may not have given up any hits or runs, but for some dropped balls and an official scorer generous to the Astros.
A Justin Smoak error also prolonged the third inning and enabled the Astros to open the scoring with an unearned run.
But that would be all Houston managed and the Mariners quickly overcame the deficit, led by a career-high four-hit night from Dustin Ackley.
An Ackley single off Astros starter Brad Peacock tied it 1-1 in the fourth and then rookie Abraham Almonte raced up the line and beat out an attempted double-play grounder to enable the go-ahead run to score.
Kyle Seager singled in the fifth to bring a third marker home and then Ackley added a two-run single that frame to make it 5-1. Ackley then hit a triple to center in the eighth and eventually scored on Almonte’s first big-league hit.
Finally, in the ninth, with the bases full, Ackley hit another single to close out the scoring.