Last night I watched what might have been the most disappointing April Mariner’s loss I have ever seen. I know many of you watched it as well. The thing about baseball is that no one game matters very much. There are 162 of these things and getting too excited about a win or too disappointed about a loss is at best silly and at worst dangerous. There is a saying about baseball that I originally heard on an episode of The West Wing that goes something like “in a 162 game season, you’re going to win 54 and you’re going to lose 54, it’s what you do with the other 54 that matter.” It takes something special, something extra that adds to the stakes, to make an April loss really hurt. Last night we got that little extra in the form of one of the most dominant performances by a Seattle athlete I can remember in a long time. By the end of the game, I wasn’t just rooting for the Mariners to get an early season win, I was rooting for Felix! I was rooting for his epic performance to be rewarded. It wasn’t a notch in the Mariners loss column that crushed me when League gave up those two runs in the bottom of the ninth, it was that fact that this incredible performance by Felix Hernandez that I had just watched was all for nothing.
To understand why last night meant more than just an average game to many Mariners fans, you have to know how concerned we have been about Felix these first few weeks. His velocity was down and the results were not what we were used to. In his first two starts he had given up 8 and 4 runs respectively and hadn’t gotten past seven innings. My people, including myself, were starting to really worry that Felix had lost a couple miles per hour off his top pitch and that that might affect his status as an elite ace. We hadn’t given up, just become very nervous.
Last night, even with the loss, Felix alleviated all that. His fastball was still a mile or two slower than what it used to top out at, I saw it hit 93 mph a few times last night but never 94, but at least for last night that did not matter. He was consistently dominant throughout the entire game, and for most of it he was flat out unhittable. He retired 24 of the 30 batters he faced, giving up only five hits and one walk. Of those 24 outs he recorded, twelve, that’s half of them, were strikeouts. His pitches had so much movement on them, the hitters didn’t have a chance. I am not an expert like some people who can how good every pitch is at it leaves the pitcher’s hand on television, but even I could see the incredible drops and curves on Felix’s breaking balls last night. As the game went on, it became clear that Felix was in a zone and Cleveland was not going to be able to get anything on him.
All of this came to a head in the eighth inning when Felix, with a one run lead, loaded the bases. At one point in the inning, Eric Wedge came out of the dugout. Felix’s career high for pitch count is 128 and he was rapidly approaching that. I don’t know what Wedge’s intention was when he went out there, I assume it was just to talk, but even if he thought about taking Felix out at that moment, he would have had to pry the ball out of Felix’s hand. And this is what we love most about Felix. It’s not just the amazing performances, but the passion, the heart, the desire to win.
So when he loaded the bases with only one out, we cared so much about Felix getting out of it partly because of his incredibly performance so far, and partly because Felix himself cared so much. In this early season Mariner game that won’t matter much in the scheme of things, I was standing, palms clasped, in front of my television, rooting with all my heart for Felix to get out the this jam.
He finished the inning with two straight strikeouts that had to light a fire in even the most worn down of Mariners fans. After the second strike that ended the inning, Felix celebrated with all of the passion that we know he has, and so did I. I screamed and clapped my hands together, as I watched him do the same on the television right in front of me. For me, it was the best moment so far of this very young season. Felix walked off the field, all of us knowing his night was done, at 126 pitches.
What followed in the ninth does not need to be recounted. Brandon League, who is more often than not a great closer, gave up two runs and the offense failed to comeback. I have tried since to focus on the performance Felix gave, despite the fact that it did not lead to a win, but the truth is it’s hard. The loss put me to bed in an awful mood and I have been sad about it all day. A performance that amazing deserves to be rewarded and the fact that it wasn’t simply feels unjust. That, though, is how baseball goes. In a 162 game season there are up and downs, and blown saves happen on every team. If anything, I should be happy to be so lucky to root for a team with an athlete who can have that kind of a game. So as I wait for the next time Felix pitches, now excitedly instead of nervously, I will continue to try and convince myself of what I haven’t been able convince myself since the game ended last night. No one game matters very much. Last night was just another game in April.