Will King ever reside in his kingdom?
Hernandez owns Yankee Stadium, but don't count on seeing him in pinstripes
NEW YORK -- When the King of the Bronx, Felix Hernandez, made the final delivery from his throne, he performed his ceremonial celebration. He turned his back and pumped his right fist. He kissed the tattoos of his children on his wrists before pointing to the sky.
The final exclamation of his dominance, an 87 mph slider to seal a 1-0 complete-game win over the New York Yankees, seemed to evaporate in thin air, making one of the best hitters in the game, Robinson Cano, look like a mere peasant as he flailed at it helplessly.[+] EnlargeMike Stobe/Getty ImagesFelix Hernandez points skyward after fanning Robinson Cano to end the game.
That was the story all day for the Yankees, as Hernandez had no-hit stuff in his two-hitter. The Seattle Mariners' ace needed just 101 pitches, and the Yankees hit the ball hard only once.
Cano knocked a two-out, first-inning double but was stranded there, and only three Yankees would reach base the rest of the way. None would make it farther than first. Hernandez struck out six.
"That is probably the most impressive start that I've ever seen as a manager," said Seattle's Eric Wedge, whose team is 15-7 since the break.
Hernandez, still just 26, dominates the Yankees, especially in the Bronx. Two of Hernandez's seven career shutouts have come at the new Yankee Stadium. He is now 4-1 with a 1.13 ERA in five career starts at the billion-dollar ballpark.
Since Hernandez is an all-time talent and is young, he invariably has been -- and will be -- linked to the Yankees, as if there is an hourglass keeping track of the time until Hernandez is in the home clubhouse in the Bronx.
"He is not going to be traded," said Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik, trying to shutter any future rumors.
The Hal Steinbrenner Yankees and the finances of the game have both changed, and it is a pretty good bet that Hernandez won't be dealt to the Yankees no matter how many cell phone minutes Brian Cashman uses to the 206 area code.
But now with Hal's credo to fall under $189 million in payroll by 2014, things have changed. It is hard to see how a Hernandez deal would work anyway, unless the Yankees called a serious audible.
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They will probably have to make financial choices with those players -- allowing some to leave -- with the hope the farm system or cheaper alternatives provide the same production.
A trade for Hernandez would be a double-whammy. Besides the money, gutting the system -- and it would take a Herschel Walker deal, in theory, to get something done -- would be something that Cashman might not have the luxury to do unless Hal changes his mind about $189 million or the Yankees play real hard ball with Cano, Granderson, Swisher and Martin.
Still, what Zduriencik is saying today might not be what he says tomorrow or a year or two from now. If Zduriencik does one day deal Hernandez, Cashman would have to call, but he might not have the goods.
Despite his team's recent good play, Zduriencik could one day soon have reason to change his mind about trading the King.
The Mariners' owners have plenty of money, but Hernandez is just starting the serious part of his contract and Seattle is by far the worst team in the AL West.
Hernandez's salary jumped from $11.7 million last season to $18.5 million this year. It tops out in 2014 at $20 million. At just 28, Hernandez will hit the market with $80 million in career earnings in his pocket and with the possibility of becoming the richest pitcher in the history of the game.
After taking their one-year dip under $189 million, the Yankees will have their luxury-tax savings in their pocket and Hal might say all systems are a go to pursue the King, if he even wants to leave Seattle.
"I'm happy here," Hernandez said, meaning the Mariners' clubhouse, not the Bronx.
Hernandez didn't sound like one of these guys who is itching for the big city. He said when he comes to Manhattan with the Mariners, he mainly stays in his hotel room. It didn't play into any notion that he wanted to switch clubhouses.
So the chances might be slim he ever moves his family across the country, but they can't be any slimmer than the Yankees' bats against Hernandez. The King gave the Yankees no chance on Saturday.
"You always have a chance or you wouldn't play the game," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "You just would have left after the first inning."
They almost did, as the game was played in a tidy 2 hours and 32 minutes. The King of the Bronx did it again in New York. He seems to love pitching here.
"If you are with him enough, he loves to pitch a lot of places," Zduriencik said. "One of them is Safeco."
For now, that is where he is staying. If he ever is going to make it to the Bronx full-time, a lot is going to have to change.
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