NEW YORK – The Mariners envisioned just this sort of pitching dominance from their dual aces when the season started.
And Michael Saunders provided a dynamic one-two punch of his own Wednesday with the first two-homer game of his career, to go along with a leaping catch that saved two runs.
Following – and bettering – Cliff Lee’s complete-game performance of a night earlier, Felix Hernandez hurled a masterful two-hitter as the Mariners blanked the Yankees, 7-0, at Yankee Stadium.
Hernandez struck out 11 and walked three with what manager Don Wakamatsu said “might be the best pure stuff I have seen him have in a ballgame.” Yankee manager Joe Girardi added, “His stuff was as good as we’ve seen all year long.”
A grinning Hernandez didn’t disagree with either assessment.
“Yeah, I was pretty good today,” he said. “I got good run support today. We played good defense. That’s what we do. That’s how we win games.”
Not enough to keep them out of last place, but the M’s are on a surge, having won nine of their past 12 games. Newly acquired Russell Branyan, noting that he has seen just two Seattle pitchers in his first two starts since returning to the Mariners, finds it hard to fathom that the team he’s seeing is so far back.
“It’s a bit of a surprise to see this ballclub double-digit games back,” he said. “But three weeks from now, we can see ourselves six or seven games back. You never know.”
Hernandez actually gave up just one legitimate hit – Mark Teixeira’s ringing double to right leading off the fourth. The Yankees’ other hit was a routine pop-up by rookie Colin Curtis that second baseman Chone Figgins couldn’t find in the twilight. Curtis hustled into second with a double.
Hernandez has gone nine innings in each of his past three starts (including his last outing against the Cubs, in which the Mariners lost in 13 innings). And before that, he went 8
It marked just the second time all season the Lee-Hernandez duo has recorded back-to-back victories. The other time came on June 18 and 19, when they stymied the Reds with back-to-back complete games.
“You talk about the impact Lee has on this pitching staff. I think it pushes Felix,” Wakamatsu said. “We talked about that way back in spring training, about Lee making Felix a better pitcher. I think it’s starting to pay off. Just a tremendous performance.”
That last statement goes as well for Saunders, who at 23, in his second stint in the big leagues, is trying to show that he belongs. Saunders had no homers in 129 plate appearances last year, but now has seven in 115 this year.
Saunders had a solo homer in the third off Yankee starter Javier Vazquez, and then crushed a two-run blast into the second deck in the eighth.
“Confidence is the biggest thing,” Wakamatsu said. “What we’re seeing is whether it’s a cutter at 85 or a good fastball like he turned on at the end, just battling, getting some experience and gaining some confidence is the biggest thing for him.
“You look at his tools, whether it’s the ability to have range in the outfield and cover a lot of ground, or the leverage that he brings, the rest is just the experience he needs. He had a tremendous game, and when you do it in a setting like this, it gives you a belief system that you can do it anywhere.”
Saunders says he feels more comfortable this year.
“A lot of people ask me, what was the biggest difference between this call-up and last year’s call-up,” he said. “This time around, I’m a lot more confident coming in, and I try to not put too much pressure on myself to perform. I try to come out every day I get the opportunity, just play hard and have fun.”
The Mariners launched four homers, the first time they have done that since Sept. 27 of last year. Milton Bradley had a solo in the second, and Branyan had a two-run shot in the seventh off lefty Damaso Marte.
With a two-game sample, the M’s acquisition of Branyan to boost the offense has been highly encouraging. They have five homers and 14 runs in the two games he has started since his acquisition from Cleveland over the weekend.
Branyan’s homer was his first as a Mariner since Aug. 25 of last year against Oakland – his 31st of that season. He missed the final month with a back injury.
Saunders made the defensive play of the night in the first to bail out Hernandez from his biggest jam. Hernandez had started the game by walking Derek Jeter, then issued a two-out walk to Alex Rodriguez. Robinson Cano hit a drive to left that Saunders snared with a leaping grab.
The Mariners sent catcher Eliezer Alfonzo to Triple-A Tacoma after he cleared waivers. Seattle had designated the 31-year-old Alfonzo for assignment on Tuesday when it activated catcher Josh Bard from the disabled list. Alfonzo batted .220 with one home run and four RBIs in 13 games, 10 starts, with Seattle.
Mariners 7, Yankees 0
|Seattle||012||000||220 – 7||9||0|
|New York||000||000||000 – 0||2||0|
LOB – Seattle 7, New York 5. 2B – Teixeira (15), Curtis (2). HR – Bradley (8), off Vazquez; M.Saunders (6), off Vazquez; Branyan (11), off D.Marte; M.Saunders (7), off Gaudin. RBIs – Branyan 2 (26), Bradley (28), Jo.Lopez (30), M.Saunders 3 (20). SB – Figgins (23). RLISP – Seattle 3 (Langerhans 3); New York 4 (Cano 2, Posada, Jeter).
|F.Hernandez W, 6-5||9||2||0||0||3||11||115||3.03|
|Vazquez L, 6-7||6||6||3||3||2||8||113||5.11|
HBP – by Vazquez (Branyan). WP – F.Hernandez. PB – Ro.Johnson. T – 2:46. A – 46,309 (50,287).
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