Felix has career day on Opening Day
Hernandez fans 12 A's and Sexson clubs three-run homer
SEATTLE -- Felix Hernandez went on a mission in Spring Training to be the Mariners' Opening Day starting pitcher.He completed that goal and blasted off the way few others have on Monday afternoon, becoming only the third pitcher in Major League history to strike out at least 12 batters on Opening Day. The 20-year-old right-hander whiffed a dozen Athletics to co-power the Mariners to a 4-0 victory over Oakland before a sellout crowd of 46,003 at Safeco Field. First baseman Richie Sexson put his mark on the opener with a three-run home run, capping a four-run sixth inning that saddled right-hander Dan Haren with the tough loss. All four runs were unearned. Unearned or not, the runs counted and that's all that mattered to the Mariners. "We beat a team that has been tough on us and it's nice to do that," Sexson said. "No one was hiding the fact they beat up on us pretty good last year. The way Felix was throwing, that hit right there was a back-breaker. The way he was pitching, the game was pretty well over." The first pitch Hernandez threw in his must-have start was a strike to Athletics catcher Jason Kendall. When Hernandez called it a day -- after eight innings -- he had surrendered three hits and thrown 111 pitches, 77 of them for strikes. The 12 strikeouts were a career best -- one more than he had against the Royals on Aug. 15, 2005. He struck out Kendall three times and shortstop Bobby Crosby and rookie right fielder Travis Buck twice apiece. Mark Ellis, batting ninth, was the only Oakland starter that didn't strike out. Hernandez joined a select group. Only Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson have, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, struck out at least 12 batters on Opening Day. Martinez fanned 12 for the Mets two years ago and Johnson twice struck out 14 batters when he was with the Mariners -- 1993 and '96. "He's as good as advertised," said Buck. "He threw every one of his pitches for strikes, and every pitch was about as good as it gets. I faced him once in Spring Training and flew out to right, but I didn't see all of his pitches. Today he threw everything, and all of it was legit." But Buck got the sweet part of his bat on a Hernandez pitch leading off the sixth inning and drove it over Ichiro Suzuki's head in straightaway center field for a leadoff double.
First-year Athletics manager Bob Geren, playing for the first run of the season in Seattle, got a sacrifice bunt from Ellis, moving Buck to third. But Hernandez struck out Kendall for the third time and then whiffed Shannon Stewart to end the inning.Hernandez was so pumped up after the punch-out that he exchanged hand slaps with catcher Kenji Johjima. "I was excited," Hernandez admitted. "Man on second with no outs and he didn't score. That was big." It was big because neither team had scored at that point. Hernandez retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced, striking out five of them. Haren retired the first 11 batters he faced and had allowed just two baserunners through five innings -- a single by Jose Vidro in the fourth and the first of shortstop Crosby's two errors of the game in the fifth. Haren pitched around the first Crosby bobble. There was no getting around the second one. With one out and runners on first and second in the sixth inning, Vidro hit a one-hopper back to Haren and it looked like an inning-ending double play was in the works. The throw to second was perfect, but the ball went into -- and then out of -- Crosby's glove for an error that loaded the bases. Raul Ibanez delivered a sacrifice fly to right field for the game's first run and Sexson followed with his home run for three more. Haren "threw me a sinker on the first pitch, looking to get a double play to get out of the inning," Sexson said. "He came back with a slider. He had been throwing me a lot of sliders and I took a chance that he would throw another one. He got a pitch out over the plate. "I was trying to get a fly ball in that situation, and I got one. Thank god they closed the roof. I wasn't sure it was going out, but I knew it would score a run." The retractable roof had been open until the top of the fifth, but an approaching storm prompted the roof to be closed. Hernandez and closer J.J. Putz combined for the shutout and a rare win over the defending AL West champs. Oakland ran roughshod over Seattle last season, winning 17 of the 19 regular-season games, including 15 straight. "To be able to beat Oakland means a lot to this team," Johjima said. "It's almost like we had an allergy against them last season." But it means more in the short term than it does in the long run. "To me, this is just one out of a 162 games we are going to play," manager Mike Hargrove said. "This season is not going to be played in three months. It will be played in six, and hopefully more if we accomplish want we want. Every game is vitally important and today was a great win. "You want to win your opener. We want to win our second game, too. There is lot of gratification in the win. We put in a lot of work this spring. Guys busted their hump every day and then some, and we saw fruits of that work today. "We made plays when we had to make them and made pitches when we had to make them. And we took advantage of Oakland's mistakes." All that and Hernandez pitching probably the best game of his brief career added up to a stellar afternoon.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.