Posted by: bkivey | 15 August 2012

The Sorcerer of Safeco

In the 143 years of Major League Baseball’s existence, there have been 23 perfect games. A perfect game is one in which the opposing team doesn’t reach base. No walks, no hits, no hit batters, no errors that allow a baserunner. 27 up, 27 down. It requires solid fielding and great catching, but most of all, the pitcher must have dominant command of his stuff.

On 15 August, Seattle Mariners starter Felix Hernandez had that command of all four of his pitches, pitching a perfect game. It’s a rare outing when the Mariners ace doesn’t show up without at least a couple of pitches ready to go, but on this day, everything he had was working.

Hernandez likes to work fast, and battery mate John Jaso kept him in his rhythm. The opponent on the day was the Tampa Bay Rays, a team looking to contend for the AL East title. No lightweight team this, the Rays order is filled with guys who can routinely put a round stick on a round ball moving at 90+ mph, and control the direction of the ball. On this day, that lineup was rendered impotent. 12 times the hitters never left the batters box. 77 times out of 113 pitches, Hernandez threw strikes.

The distinguishing characteristic of Hernandez’ pitches is movement. His fastball, curve, change-up, and slider all dance around the plate. Watching opposing players attempt a hit is a reminiscent of a Bugs Bunny cartoon. His change-up, especially, has a nasty 6 – 12 break. Now you see it, now you don’t.

Along with wicked movement, he has precise control. Pick a point in the strike zone, and Felix will put it there with clockwork regularity. When his stuff is working, Hernandez will throw any pitch in any count. Today he threw off-speed offerings for out pitches. Mere mortal pitchers will go to their fastball for a put-out. For the final out, he started out behind 2 – 0, and then maneuvered the ball around the strike zone, sitting down the 27th, and final, Ray.

There’s a section of bleachers at Safeco Field, open only during Hernandez starts, called the King’s Court, after Felix’ nickname. For $30 you get a ticket, a yellow ‘King Felix’ t-shirt, and a K card. Today the entire stadium, and a good portion of the Northwest, was the King’s Court. If you watch him pitch, though, it’s apparent he’s more sorcerer than sovereign.

Notes on the game

The game today marks the first time two perfect games have occurred in the same stadium in the same season (Philip Humber of the Chicago White Sox threw one on 21 April), and the first time a team (the Mariners) have been on both sides of a perfect game. This was also the first perfect game in Mariners history.

Today in History

Other historical items on the day, only some of them baseball related:

1620 – Mayflower sets sail from Southampton with 102 Pilgrims

1824 – Freed American slaves forms country of Liberia

1858 – Regular mail to Pacific coast begins

1899 – Louisville’s Henry Dowling struck out 5 times in a game

1912 – Yankee Guy Zinn sets record by stealing home twice in a game

1914 – Panama Canal opens (under cost)

1931 – Ernest Lassy completes longest canoe journey without port (6,102 mi)

1947 – India declares independence from UK, Islamic part becomes Pakistan

1997 – Dan Wilson hits Seattle Mariners 3,000th HR

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