ANAHEIM, Calif. — Felix Hernandez took the hit and kept on pitching. Mike Trout delivered an early punch to the stomach of the Mariners’ ace, belting a two-run homer in the first inning.
But the former Cy Young Award winner just kept on firing strikes.
When the Angels tacked on another run in the third inning on a run-scoring double from Albert Pujols on a fly ball that should have been caught, Hernandez just kept racking up strikeouts.
If this had been in 2007 in his first opening-day start, he might have melted down. But the older, wiser version of the King never lost focus.
And in the end, his teammates rewarded him with yet another opening-day victory to add to his brilliant résumé.
Abraham Almonte gave the Mariners the lead for good in the seventh inning with an RBI double, while Justin Smoak belted a three-run homer and Dustin Ackley added a three-run triple in the ninth inning to turn the game into a 10-3 rout over the Los Angeles Angels on Monday at Angels Stadium. It was Seattle’s eighth straight opening-day win.
Hernandez, making his club-record seventh opening-day start, pitched six innings, giving up the three runs on four hits with a walk, a wild pitch and 11 strikeouts.
In those seven starts, he is now 5-0 with a 1.52 earned-run average and 52 strikeouts.
“I was just pissed,” he said of the Trout homer. “I mean, opening day, two-run homer? Really Felix? Really? I said, ‘You have to go out there and do something about it.’ After that I felt really comfortable and I was throwing strikes and attacked the strike zone.”
While winning on opening day has become pretty common for Hernandez, it was Lloyd McClendon’s first victory as manager of the Mariners.
“It’s good to get it and get it out of the way,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s much significance to it.”
But there is significance to what Hernandez has meant to the Mariners over the years beyond just opening-day starts.
“Given the history of what Felix has done for this organization and the battles he’s had and the lack of wins, it was really special to see our guys come back and win the ballgame for him,” McClendon said. “I was really happy for Felix.”
Though it didn’t look like another opening-day win for Hernandez at the beginning with the Trout homer.
It did serve as a good example why Trout might be the best player in baseball — his ability to hit one of the best pitchers in baseball.
The Angels’ do-everything center fielder, fresh off signing a $144.5 million, six-year contract, continued to do something that most people can’t in baseball — hit Hernandez.
Moments after being serenaded by loud cheers and chants of MVP from the sold-out crowd, Trout rewarded their affection by blasting a 1-0 curveball from Hernandez over the wall in left field for a two-run homer.
Hernandez was clearly agitated on the mound, shaking his head in disgust. Trout’s success against Hernandez is extraordinary.
Coming into the game, he was hitting .395 (15 for 38) with a 1.036 on-base plus slugging percentage. Hernandez did retire Trout in his next two at-bats.
“You gotta make good pitches down in the zone,” he said. “You make strike one first and do whatever you want after that.”
Down 3-1 after the third, the Mariners struggled against Jered Weaver, who was changing speeds and keeping them off balance.
However, two-out walks to Smoak and Logan Morrison in the sixth inning would cost him. Kyle Seager doubled off the wall in right field, easily scoring Smoak.
However, Angels right fielder Cole Kalhoun made a brilliant play, catching the ball off the wall and firing a perfect strike to second baseman Howie Kendrick, who fired to home to get Morrison by a few steps to end the inning.
Ackley singled to start the seventh inning and Zunino belted a triple off the wall in left field to tie the game at three. Angels manager Mike Scioscia called on Fernando Salas to stop the bleeding, but Almonte ripped a pitch into left-center to give the Mariners a 4-3 lead.
“I was just trying to get a good pitch and hit it through the infielders,” Almonte said. “I saw his offspeed stuff and I know what I can jump on.”
Things got a little hairy with the Mariners bullpen. McClendon used three different relievers — Yoervis Medina, Charlie Furbush and Tom Wilhelmsen — to get out of trouble in the seventh inning. Wilhelmsen pitched a 1-2-3 eighth.
Up just a run, the Mariners exploded in the top of the ninth to put the game out of reach. Brad Miller singled, Robinson Cano doubled and Smoak crushed a fastball from Kevin Jepsen deep to right for a three-run homer.
“I was just trying to get the barrel through and I caught it clean,” said Smoak, who also had a double.
The M’s loaded the bases and Ackley cleared them with a triple to right. It was the third time in franchise history the Mariners scored 10 or more runs on opening day.