Whenever Felix Hernandez takes the mound, the possibility of seeing something special, of witnessing immortality, is always lurking.
On Wednesday, on a brilliantly sunny day, that possibility became reality, as Hernandez threw the 23rd perfect game in major-league history, and the first in Mariners history.
"I don't have any words to explain this," Hernandez said in a TV interview after the game. "I've got to throw one. I've been working so hard to throw one, and I got it. It was in my mind the whole game."
It was the third perfecto this season, one of which took place in the same venue, as Philip Humber of the White Sox threw a perfect against the Mariners on April 21. The Giants' Matt Cain had a perfect game against the Astros on June 13.
It marks the first time in MLB history three perfect games have been thrown in the same season, and also the first time a team has been victimized by, and thrown, a perfect game in the same season.
The Mariners beat the Rays, 1-0, before 21,889 at Safeco Field to win the series, but that was secondary to Hernandez's historic outing.
Hernandez struck out the side in the sixth, and again in the ninth, as fans in the King's Court section loudly chanted, "Let's Go, Felix." Mariners players, who hung on the dugout railing during Mariners at-bats, were nowhere to be seen when the Mariners were in the field as superstition took over.
In the ninth, pinch-hitter Desmond Jennings fouled off two-strike pitches, then went down swinging. Another pinch-hitter, Jeff Keppinger, grounded out to shortstop Brendan Ryan on a 1-2 pitch. Hernandez went 2-0 on Sean Rodriguez, then struck out Rodriguez for the 27th consecutive out.
Hernandez pointed skyward as teammates rushed out to congratulate him.
"In his postgame interview on the field, Hernandez looked at the fans and said, "It's unbelievable. It's for you guys, for you!"
It was the first perfect game in Mariners history, though Brian Holman came within one out in 1990 before Ken Phelps of Oakland hit a pinch-hit home run. The Mariners have thrown three previous no-hitters, including one against the Dodgers earlier this season in which they used six pitchers on June 8.
The last Seattle pitcher to go the distance on a no-hitter was Chris Bosio on April 22, 1993 against Boston. Randy Johnson threw the first Mariners no-hitter on June 2, 1990, against the Tigers.
Hernandez has flirted with no-hitters before, most notably on April 11, 2007, when he stole the thunder from Daisuke Matsuzaka's Boston debut with a one-hitter at Fenway Park. The only hit he allowed was a single up the middle by J.D. Drew leading off the eighth.
This was Hernandez's fourth shutout this season, including a masterful two-hitter at Yankee Stadium two starts ago. He also had a three-hitter against the Rangers, and a five-hitter against the Red Sox.
For the Rays, it was the third time in their brief history — which began in 1998 — that they have been the victim of a perfect game. Mark Buehrle of the White Sox threw one against them on July 23, 2009, and Oakland's Dallas Braden threw one on May 9, 2010. They've also had two no-hitters thrown against them, by Boston's Derek Lowe (April 27, 2002) and Arizona's Edwin Jackson (June 25, 2010).
Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon was ejected with two outs in the seventh by home-plate umpire Rob Drake, arguing a called strike on Matt Joyce. But Hernandez was undeterred by the delay, getting Joyce on a ground out to first on a 3-2 pitch. It was just his second three-ball count of the game.
The Mariners scored the only run they would need in the third inning, thanks to alert baserunning from Brendan Ryan and clutch hitting by Jesus Montero. After a leadoff single, Ryan was still on first with two outs when he noticed that Rays pitcher Jeremy Hellickson was paying him little attention. Before Hellickson even started his stretch, Ryan took off for second, and when the pitch was in the dirt and got past catcher Jose Lobaton for a wild pitch, Ryan kept right on running to third base.
Montero then lined a single to left, and Ryan trotted home. Hellickson had been 3-0 with a 0.92 earned-run average in four previous starts against the Mariners.
The Rays rarely even threatened a hit in the game. Sam Fuld had a long fly to right to start the game, and lined out to third in the fourth, and Evan Longoria lined out to second in the fifth. Ryan made a nice play on a g rounder by B.J. Upton for the second out in the seventh, after the ball skipped past diving third baseman Kyle Seager. Catcher John Jaso pounced on a nubber in front of the plate by Carlos Pena in the fifth and threw him out.