Wednesday, August 15, 2012
King Felix lives up to his name
By Matt Meyers
Seattle Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez has made good on the promise he showed as a rookie, throwing his first perfect game.
If you're someone who reads a lot of dorky baseball blogs (as I do), you may be familiar with the acronym TINSTAAPP. It stands for "There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect." It's a tongue-in-cheek axiom based on the idea that pitchers, and particularly pitching prospects, are incredibly fickle, and there is no sense getting excited about them.
But every so often, there comes along a pitching prospect who not only lives up the expectations he set for himself at an early age, but far exceeds them, and makes that snarky acronym look silly. And there is no better example of this phenomenon than Felix Hernandez, who threw just about the most effortless perfect game you will ever see on Wednesday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Rays, striking out 12.
Even before Hernandez made his major league debut, he was dubbed "King Felix," which seems sort of ludicrous in retrospect when you consider the way guys like Ryan Anderson, Matt Riley and Brien Taylor have let us down. But that just gives you a sense of how dominant Hernandez was in the minors. Maybe this is just revisionist history, but it almost seemed like Hernandez wouldn't let us down -- and he has lived up to that moniker almost from the day he debuted.
He made his first big league start on Aug. 5, 2005, in Detroit, at the age of 19, allowing two runs in five innings. Five days later, he threw eight shutout innings against the Minnesota Twins and five days after that (seven years ago today) he whiffed 11 Royals over eight innings while allowing just three hits and one run. King Felix, indeed.
While he had some ups and downs in his first two full seasons, Felix has been a bona fide ace for the last four years, and had the full repertoire on display on Thursday. His fastball was touching 95 mph into the ninth inning, but more impressive was his off-speed stuff, as he deftly mixed in a hard slider, swooping curve and diving changeup. You almost felt bad for the Rays. (Well, as bad as you can feel for people who are paid millions to play baseball.)
Although Felix won the AL Cy Young Award in 2010 (and finished second in 2009), his dominance sometimes gets overlooked because the Mariners have been one of the worst teams in baseball over the last few years. There have been rumors of him being possibly traded, but no deal has ever come close to materializing. While I wouldn't wish a Felix departure on Seattle fans, who cherish Hernandez in a way few fan bases celebrate a player, it would be nice to see Felix pitching in the postseason (or at least in a tight pennant race), as he is now on the short list of baseball's best pitchers, a guy who combines strikeout stuff, command and durability.
But that's a conversation for another day. Today, we should all be celebrating King Felix, the kind of talent who makes it fun to be a baseball fan and proves that there is such a thing as a pitching prospect after all.
The reason you don't see David Schoenfield, a die-hard Mariners fan, writing this piece is because he left for a summer vacation today, and there is a good chance he is on an airplane right now and missed Felix's perfect game. I feel for him, but I can certainly relate. On June 1, I was on a plane to Las Vegas when I saw on my JetBlue TV monitor that Johan Santana had a no-hitter through eight innings. You see, I love the Mets as much as Dave loves the Mariners, and I could not believe I was about to miss the first no-hitter in team history because I was sitting 30,000 feet in the air. Here's hoping Dave found a TV in time to catch the end of Felix's magical performance.