This was the best he's ever seen Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez. Even better than his perfect game, Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon said. Hernandez said "everything" was working, especially his changeup, the determining factor in most of his career-high 15 strikeouts against the Rays on Sunday afternoon.
Hernandez allowed four hits over seven innings, and did not receive a decision in Seattle's 5-0 victory because all of the Mariners runs came after he left the game. Regardless of the silly win stat for pitchers, nobody seemed to doubt that Hernandez, who had his 29th career game with double-digit strikeouts, was the best player on the field.
'"I think he was even better than the perfect-game stuff," Maddon said. "Better today than when he threw the perfect game in Seattle. His changeup, it was a fastball until the last second, and then it became a changeup. He was really good. His command was outstanding."
Hernandez was perfect against the Rays on Aug. 15, 2012. He struck out 12 that day.
Against the current Rays, he surpassed 1,800 career strikeouts, striking out the side three times. James Loney and Yunel Escobar struck out three times apiece, and the only person to bat for the Rays who didn't strike out at least once was pinch-hitter Logan Forsythe.
Hernandez's effort tied Jon Lester of Boston for the most strikeouts in a game this season. Via MLB.com, Hernandez said:
"I was throwing a lot of strikes. My changeup was unbelievable and the slider was really good, too. I was getting ahead early and that was it. It's fun when you've got all that stuff. It's fun to go out there and just throw every pitch and know it's going to be for strikes."
Hernandez is now 10th among active pitchers in career strikeouts with 1,809 and 97th on MLB's all-time list. He's 28 years old.
The Mariners scored five runs in the ninth with two outs to break a scoreless tie, after Tampa Bay starter Chris Archer had left the game. Grant Balfour took the loss for the Rays, who have dropped 12 of 13. Endy Chavez got the breakthrough hit for the M's.
The Mariners are 33-29 and in the playoff hunt, such as it is in June. They appear to have the best pitcher in the American League.
Here's a look at all of King Felix's 15 K's:
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