SEATTLE – Some time during the late afternoon and early evening Tuesday, nearly 2,000 people decided to change whatever plans they had and show up at Safeco Field for baseball.
In a matchup that may produce sparks for the next decade or so, Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariner and Francisco Liriano of the Minnesota Twins picked up where they’d left off 10 days ago in Minneapolis – and 21,028 fans were the beneficiaries.
Avenging a 3-1 loss in their first meeting, Hernandez and his Mariners teammates beat the Twins, 4-2, although the outcome was in doubt until the final out.
“I don’t have the luxury of looking at this game like a fan,” manager Mike Hargrove said. “But this is one of those games I’d pay to see.”
He obviously wasn’t alone. Along with pre-sold tickets, another 2,000 fans walked up to the ticket counters at Safeco Field Tuesday to see two of the best young starting pitchers in baseball.
Both lived up to the billing.
For the first three innings, neither team could score. Over the next three innings, the Mariners punched home three runs, the Twins one – and Liriano and Hernandez held the damage there with gritty performances.
In the end, the 22-year-old Liriano lost for the first time this season.
Hernandez, the 20-year-old pride of the Mariners system, pitched like the kid who dominated his 12 starts last season and won for the third time in his last four starts.
The last loss? To Liriano.
“Same kind of game as that one, but the results were different,” Hernandez said, grinning. “I feel like I’m back where I’m supposed to be, with all my pitches.”
Count this one as the kind of game that doesn’t work in the box score. In six innings, Liriano gave up seven hits. In seven innings, Hernandez allowed six.
“There weren’t a lot of balls hit hard by either team,” Hargrove said. “We started playing for one run early. You had two kids out there throwing 95-96 mph with great off-speed stuff. There weren’t going to be a lot of opportunities to score.”
Mike Morse doubled off the center field wall in the fourth inning to push home Seattle’s first run, then scored on one of Ichiro Suzuki’s four hits. In the sixth, Willie Bloomquist’s steal of third base set up a third run, and a Raul Ibanez double in the seventh got the final Seattle score in.
That left it at 4-1 after seven, with Hernandez done and two innings to go.
The Mariners brought in Eddie Guardado, who’d pitched well of late, and he faced two hitters.
The first, rookie Jason Kubel, homered. The second, Joe Mauer, singled – his fourth hit of the night. Hargrove pulled Guardado.
“It wasn’t the way we’d hoped the eighth inning would go, but we had contingencies,” Hargrove said.
Right-hander Julio Mateo came in and got one out. Left-hander George Sherrill got a second out. And closer J.J. Putz finished the eighth inning, then worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his ninth save.
“We did a lot of things well tonight,” Hargrove said. “We ran the bases aggressively, we played solid defense and made some tough plays, and we got good jobs from our bullpen.
“But if I had to point at one reason we won tonight, it would be Felix. He shut down some very good hitters.”
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