SEATTLE – The suspense is largely gone, the mystery long ago faded. When Felix Hernandez pitches for the Seattle Mariners this season, two things are nearly guaranteed: He will go seven innings, and he will give up two earned runs or fewer.
But whatever uncertainty hovers over a Hernandez start stems not from anything in his control. It stems from whether his offense will give him the run support that has so often eluded him during his career.
On the night Hernandez tied Gaylord Perry with his 15th consecutive start of at least seven innings and two runs or fewer, though, the Mariners’ offense gave Hernandez the runs he needed in a 4-2 win Tuesday against Atlanta.
They just needed some help from the Braves, losers of seven straight, to get there.
The fourth inning saw the Mariners score all four of their runs, and it all started with Kyle Seager getting hit by a pitch. From there, Chris Denorfia and Logan Morrison had back-to-back singles to score one run.
After a Mike Zunino strikeout, Chris Taylor hit a high fly ball to shallow right field. It looked like Braves right fielder Jason Heyward was going to come in and make the routine catch, but he never called off second baseman Tommy La Stella. La Stella dropped the over-the-shoulder attempt, and the Mariners scored two runs on the play. They added one more run in the four-run fourth inning on an Austin Jackson single.
That proved to be more than enough runs for Hernandez, who wobbled, just a little, in the early innings before settling down.
Hernandez gave up a leadoff double to Justin Upton in the second inning and then retired the next two batters he faced. But he allowed Upton to score when he gave up a single to Chris Jonson. Left fielder Dustin Ackley had a chance to throw out Upton at the plate, but he dropped the ball when he was pulling it out of his glove.
Hernandez also gave up two base runners in the third inning.
Then he shut the Braves down almost entirely.
He retired 11 straight batters at one point. He gave up a single in the seventh inning that snapped that streak, then retired the next five batters he faced. He gave up one run, had eight strikeouts and went eight innings for the fourth time in his last seven starts.
Hernandez already owned the major-league record for consecutive starts with at least seven innings and two runs or fewer, but Perry held the distinction for consecutive starts with at least seven innings and two earned runs or fewer. Perry set the record with Cleveland in 1974.
During his 15-start streak, Hernandez has 126 strikeouts compared to just 20 walks in 114 innings.
Fernando Rodney closed out the ninth inning for his 31st save, although he did give up one run in the process.
Check out “A Grip on Sports” every morning on our SportsLink blog. Veteran sports writer Vince Grippi does all the work of finding Mariners stories on the Web and then sharing the links with you.
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