Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Yanks Dethrone "King" Felix

Last night, the Yankees began a 3-game series against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field.

The Mariner starter was Felix Hernandez, a 25-year-old righthander from Venezuela who is known as "King Felix."

What has Hernandez done to earn the nickname "King"?

Has he helped a team win a World Series? No.

Has he helped a team win a Pennant? No.

Has he helped a team to even reach the Playoffs? No.

Has he won 300 games in his career? No, he's just 25, and has won 85 thus far. At this rate, he'll probably win 200, but not 250, and certainly not 300.

Has he struck out 3,000 batters in his career? No, as I said he's just 25, and his career total stands at 1,257 -- which means he could reach 3,000, but has a long way to go.

Has he won 20 games in a season? No, his best is 19, in 2009.

Has he pitched a no-hitter? No.

He has been named to 2 All-Star Teams. In 2009 he led the American League in wins, winning percentage, and fewest hits per 9 innings -- but also in wild pitches. He went 19-5, and finished 2nd in the voting for the Cy Young Award to Zach Greinke, even though the award, which is supposed to be given to "the pitcher judged to be most valuable to his team," should have gone to CC Sabathia of the Yankees, who was the best pitcher on the League Champions, and thus, by definition, the most valuable pitcher in the League that season.

In 2010, Hernandez finished a mere 13-12, but led the AL in earned run average, starts, innings pitched, batters faced and hits per 9 innings, and won the Cy Young Award, even though his efforts didn't help his team get anywhere near the postseason. Finishing 2nd in the voting was David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays, who did win the AL Eastern Division, thus Price was far more deserving.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, his "10 Most Similar Pitchers" through his current age are: Dennis Eckersley, Dave Boswell, Gary Nolan, Don Drysdale, Bret Saberhagen, Joe Coleman Jr., Ken Holtzman, Fernando Valenzuela, Larry Dierker and Milt Pappas. Of these, only 2 went on to make it to the Baseball Hall of Fame: Eckersley, who only did so after being converted to a reliever; and Drysdale, who is a borderline case.

In his 6 full seasons with the Mariners, they have finished 26, 17, 6, 34, 10 and 34 games out of a Playoff berth. If the current MLB standings hold to the end of the season, the M's will finish 24 games out of the AL Wild Card.

So while Felix Hernandez has been rather successful on an individual basis, this has not translated into team success.

"King," my ass.

There has been a lot of talk that the Mariners will have to cut costs and will thus trade Hernandez. Possibly to the Yankees, one of the few teams that could afford someone with his kind of hype.

*

So last night's game was between starting pitchers "King" Felix Hernandez and Phil Hughes -- who is younger than Hernandez (albeit by just 2 months), and has already been a contributor to 4 postseason teams (counting this season), has already helped win a Pennant and a World Series, had a 2010 season at least as good as Hernandez', and was once considered worthy of being included in a package to trade for Johan Santana, who was, at the time, considered an even better pitcher than "King" Felix. (Then he got traded to the Mets... but that's a story for another time.)

The game was 1-1 in the top of the 4th, when the Yankees decided to have a little revolution. Off with King Felix's head!

Broadcaster John Sterling began the inning with a pause for station identification. No sooner had the WCBS recording finished than Mark Teixeira crunched one, hitting his 37th home run of the season to right field. Sterling didn't even have time to go into, "It is high! It is far! It is gone!" He did, however, do, "Mark Teixeira sends a Tex Message! Ho-ho, you're on the Mark, Teixeira!"

Then Robinson Cano hit his 41st double of the season. Nick Swisher singled, although Cano could only get to 3rd. No problem: Eric Chavez, filling in for Alex Rodriguez who continues to sit out with a thumb injury, got Cano home with a sacrifice fly. Then Brett Gardner doubled to left with an inside-out swing to bring home Swish.

Then up came Chris Dickerson, playing right field, with Swisher playing 1st base, with Teixeira as the designated hitter. Dickerson is a 29-year-old Southern Californian in only his 49th game for the Yankees, who has never had 300 plate appearances in a season, and had a grand total for 8 home runs in his career.

Make it 9: He hit one out to right, scoring Gardner ahead of him. Sterling didn't even have a line to use for him, like "Tex Message" or "Jorgie juiced one!" or "Robbie Cano, don't ya know!" or "An A-Bomb for A-Rod!" or "Swish-a-licious!"

So the Yankees smacked "King" Felix for 5 runs in an inning, including a homer from a highly unlikely source. And yet, at exactly the point where you would have expected him to do so, Sterling did not turn to his broadcast partner Suzyn Waldman and say, "You know, Suzyn, you can't predict baseball!"

"You Can't Predict Baseball" would be a great title for a baseball-themed blog. Especially a Yankee-themed blog. Certainly, it would be a better title (though not necessarily a better blog) than "Scott Proctor's Arm."

Unfortunately, after the Yankees scored 3 more runs in the 7th (thanks in part to Cano's 42nd double) to take a 9-1 lead, Joe Girardi decided that Scott Proctor's arm should be used in this game. Hey, even Proctor can't blow an 8-run lead with 3 innings to go in a pitcher's park like Safeco, right?

He did his best. In the bottom of the 7th, he allowed a double and a wild pitch, but got out of it. In the 8th, he allowed a leadoff single, got a double play, then walked Justin Smoak and allowed a homer to Miguel Olivo. (If Smoak is ever acquired by the Yankees, Sterling can say, "Oh-ho, Justin smoked one!")

That made it 9-3, and Proctor did no further damage, but Girardi isn't stupid: He sent Luis Ayala to close it out, and he got 3 weak grounders.

Yankees 9, Mariners 3. WP: Hughes (5-5), who pitched 6 strong innings. LP: Hernandez (14-12), who also pitched 6 innings, and really only had the 1 bad one, but it was bad enough to put the game out of the reach of even a team facing Scott Proctor.

The Boston Red Sox were idle last night, but the Tampa Bay Rays won again. This means the Yankees are now 4 games, including 4 in the loss column, ahead of the Red Sox with 16 to play. The Magic Number to clinch the AL East is 13. It also means the Rays have closed the Wild Card race gap to 3. The Sox' Magic Number to clinch at least the Wild Card is 14.

In the AL Central, the Magic Number for the Detroit Tigers to eliminate the Cleveland Indians and clinch is 5; to eliminate the Chicago White Sox, 6. In the AL West, the Texas Rangers are down to 13 to clinch over the Whatever They're Calling Themselves This Season Angels of Anaheim.

In the National League, the Philadelphia Phillies' Magic Number to clinch the East over the Atlanta Braves is 5. The Milwaukee Brewers are down to 9 to eliminate the St. Louis Cardinals and clinch the Central. The Arizona Diamondbacks are down to 7 to eliminate the San Francisco Giants and win the West. The Braves' Magic Number to eliminate the Cardinals and clinch the Wild Card is 11. To eliminate the Giants, it's 9.

*

Tonight, A.J. Burnett goes for the Yankees. The Mariners' starter will be Charlie Furbush, a 25-year-old lefthander from Maine, whom the Yankees have never seen before. A lefty? That the Yankees have never seen before? From Red Sox Nation? Against A.J.? Uh-oh... At least it's not a Fox or ESPN game!

Ah, who knows, maybe "Good A.J." will show up tonight.

Jeter hits 3074 DONE
Rivera saves 599 3
A-Rod homers 628 135
A-Rod hits 2769 231
Magic Number 13 (to eliminate Scum for Division, 10 for Rays for Playoffs, 1 for Jays, O's done)

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