SEATTLE -- For his previous three games, Felix Hernandez wasn't the dominant Cy Young Award pitcher people expect, not even in his own mind it turns out. But that guy definitely was back Thursday night, throwing 7 2/3 innings of shutout ball as the Mariners edged Oakland 1-0 at Safeco Field.
And nobody was happier about that than The King himself as he won on a night his own club managed just four hits against Brandon McCarthy.
"It was on my mind that Felix was going to throw today," Hernandez said after holding the A's to four singles while striking out eight. "I was so confident. I said I'll throw a good game and we'll win."
What changed from his last three outings, when he gave up 24 hits and 11 earned runs in 18 innings while losing twice?
"Nothing happened," said Hernandez. "I just put it in my mind to pitch the way I know how to pitch. That's what I was doing tonight. Everything was on the corners and my breaking pitches were good. That's all I can do. Throw strikes. And they gave me one run and we win."
Indeed, the 25-year-old got just enough help from his friends to even his record at 2-2, both victories coming against the American League West-rival A's.
This one came in a classic pitchers' duel against McCarthy, the hard-luck loser after surrendering a solo home run to Adam Kennedy in the fourth inning for the game's lone run.
For Kennedy, filling in for Justin Smoak at first base, it was his second long ball in as many games, and he also turned in several superlative defensive efforts at a position he doesn't normally play.
The bullpen also came up aces as Jamey Wright came in with runners on first and second in the top of the eighth and needed just one pitch to get Hernandez off the hook with a groundout to second by Conor Jackson. Brandon League then slammed the door in the ninth, stranding the winning run at second thanks in part to a sparkling over-the-shoulder catch by Kennedy down the first-base line.
"You're just trying to survive when you're playing out of position like that," Kennedy said, downplaying his efforts. "You just try to make the plays you can."
Others weren't fooled, however.
"He was great over there," said manager Eric Wedge, who is platooning Kennedy at first while Smoak is on a bereavement leave following the death of his father on Tuesday.
Hernandez was the story of the night, however. He hadn't won since a 6-2 complete-game victory over the A's on Opening Night in Oakland, but he allowed the A's to reach second base only twice on a chilly night in front of 12,770 fans at Safeco Field.
"He was special tonight," said Wedge. "He commanded the game all night long, made pitches when he had to. His stuff is as good as anybody's in the game and tonight he really stepped up for us. We took him as far as we could take him. Just a great effort."
The A's offered no argument there after Hernandez improved to 11-4 with a 2.61 ERA against them in 19 career starts.
"He just wasn't leaving much over the plate," Jackson said after an 0-for-4 night. "It's nasty stuff. Obviously, our guy went out and threw a great game, too. It's a shame we kind of wasted it for him."
A's shortstop Cliff Pennington provided the only threats against Hernandez as he singled in the fourth and advanced to second when Hernandez's pickoff attempt sailed wide of Kennedy at first base. But he missed a chance to advance further when the ball rolled under a tarp down the right-field line and was ruled out of play.
Pennington also reached second in the eighth when he singled and stole second on a strikeout of Coco Crisp. With his pitch count climbing, Hernandez battled David DeJesus to a full count before walking him.
Wedge then took Hernandez out, his 126 pitches two shy of his highest total thrown in 2010, and Wright came in to get the final out on one pitch with a grounder to Jack Wilson at second. The veteran Wright saved Doug Fister two nights earlier with a one-pitch double play to escape a bases-loaded jam with the same effective sinkerball.
"They know what's coming," Wright said. "As long as I keep throwing it where I'm supposed to, that's going to be the result more often than not. I think they're just hoping I'll leave that one up and they can get it, but I've been throwing that for 16 years now. That's my best pitch.
"It's not a bad game plan [to swing at the first pitch], but whenever they roll over on the first one I guess it doesn't look too good. It's good for me though."
And good for the Mariners, who won on a night when Milton Bradley was scratched due to illness and Smoak was still absent, leading to a lineup with five players hitting below .200 going in.
"Play good defense, score a run and we win," Hernandez said with a shrug. "It's all about baseball."