NEW YORK -- One pitch after the other would dart around the strike zone, leaving one New York Yankees batter after the other dragging himself back to the dugout with a combination of frustration and awe.
At any time, the Yankees' intimidating lineup seemingly provided a threat in Saturday's 1-0 loss to the Seattle Mariners, with Yankee Stadium's invitingly short right-field porch looming for their lineup full of power hitters. But Mariners ace Felix Hernandez instead humbled the Yankees in their own homer-happy ballpark, pitching a complete-game two-hitter to win his sixth decision in a row.
It added up to another impressive win in a streak full of them as Hernandez allowed two or fewer runs for the ninth time in his last 10 starts.
But this one, which left Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda (10-8) a hard-luck loser, had both sides talking about Hernandez offering one of the best starts of his career.
"That was just special stuff today," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "I told him it was probably the most impressive start that I've ever seen as a manager. I mean, I've seen a lot of good and great pitchers pitch over the years. This ballpark, that lineup, the swings and misses. ... The efficiency in which he did it in a 1-0 ballgame, it doesn't get any better than that."
Along with Mike Carp's two-out RBI single in the second inning, Hernandez was all the Mariners needed as the imposing Yankees lineup was rendered impotent. He struck out six and walked two, as the pitchers' duel was played in a brisk 2:32.
In the batters' box, the Yankees continued to watch Hernandez's wide array of pitches torment them with the wicked "late movement" Mariners catcher John Jaso described. Among them was the late-dropping changeup that Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan said "defies science."
In the dugout, Yankees manager Joe Girardi realized as the game went on he was watching the best performance against his hitters all season, as he noted Hernandez's command was so good, he averaged about a ball per batter. Not only was Hernandez throwing strikes, but he threw a conundrum at the Yankees.
Yankees captain Derek Jeter pointed out the hitters couldn't take many pitches because Hernandez was quickly getting ahead. Curtis Granderson countered the pitches were often so nasty that, "when you're getting pitches you can't do much with, you have to take it."
On the mound, Kuroda, who had allowed a second-inning double to Jaso and the two-out single by Carp for the game's only run, tensed as he knew his margin for error had rapidly closed.
"I think a little bit because, as great a pitcher as he is, you know we're not gonna score many runs," Kuroda said through a translator, when asked if Hernandez's performance forced him to lock in more. "So you're gonna manage their lineup a little more strict than I normally do."
While Kuroda had to wiggle out of jams often, stranding two runners each in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, Hernandez (10-5) barely broke a figurative sweat in the 91-degree weather. He threw 101 pitches to improve to 4-1 with a 1.13 ERA at Yankee Stadium, an especially impressive mark for a right-handed pitcher.
"I don't know, man. I don't know," Hernandez said, when asked why he was so successful in the Bronx. "I just try to throw a good game."
He succeeded as he allowed a two-out double to Robinson Cano in the first -- before getting Mark Teixeira on a pop up --and a single to ex-teammate Ichiro Suzuki in the third, and nothing else.
"We got one shot today," Girardi said of the Yankees' scoring opportunities. "That was it. Usually, you get more than one, but we only got one today. And that's how good he was."
As the game went on, Hernandez grew stronger, Jaso said, his curve ball dipping more and combining with a hard changeup that bites at the last moment and a fastball that also dashed in or out of the strike zone before hitters could recognize what was happening.
"Later on in the game, it had more break," Jaso said of Hernandez's curve. "He was dropping it in for strike one, and hitters, their eyes were like, 'Whoa.' "
He finished off the dominant performance by striking out Cano to end the game.
"It's always special when you throw a shutout as a pitcher," said Hernandez, who added it was "probably" among his favorite games, but he couldn't say for sure. "So very special."
Kuroda nearly matched Hernandez on the scoreboard, though he had to work a little harder to keep up, allowing seven hits in 6 1/3 innings.
He nearly escaped in the second inning, too, but Carp smacked a 3-2 pitch into left for a RBI single.
"That hit right there was huge," Jaso said. "That won the game and Felix took it from there."
"He was better than us today," Jeter said of Hernandez. "That's all you can say."
NOTES: Yankees third baseman Eric Chavez (stiff ankle) was cleared to play shortly before the game. ... Center fielder Curtis Granderson was in the leadoff spot for the second straight game. ... Ichiro has hit safely in each of his 11 games as a Yankee. ... Ryan left the game in the seventh, after getting struck on the left elbow by a pitch from Kuroda. X-rays were negative and Ryan would be monitored Sunday, Wedge said. ... Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders, who sat out Friday night with leg stiffness, was back in the lineup Saturday. ... Left-hander Charlie Furbush (strained left biceps) will need at least one more rehab appearance after pitching an inning for Class AAA Tacoma, Wedge said in his pre-game press briefing Saturday. Furbush gave up a run on two hits, but struck out three batters.