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04/22/10 2:20 AM ET
Felix tops O's with 17th straight quality start
By Jim Street / MLB.com
SEATTLE -- A Mariners team that came home from a rough road trip knowing it was better than its record took matters into its own hands and proved it. A season-opening homestand that ranked among the best in franchise history ended on Wednesday night with ace right-hander Felix Hernandez pitching a complete game, shortstop Jack Wilson matching his season's RBI output with one swing, and rookie Matt Tuiasosopo keeping the game-deciding four-run fourth inning going with his hustle. It all added up to a series-sweeping 4-1 victory over the Orioles before 18,401 at Safeco Field. As for that toe-stubbing 2-6 start? Never mind. With seven wins in the nine-game homestand, the Mariners are now two games over .500 (9-7) and tied for first atop the American League West heading into a six-game road trip to Chicago and Kansas City. The seven wins are the most for a season-opening homestand of more than five games in franchise history. Hernandez won two of those games and extended his Major League-leading quality-starts streak to 17, a club record. "Don't tell me that," he said. Hernandez is 2-0 this season and has won nine straight overall. "Don't tell me that," he said again. It was sort of a strange game for Hernandez, who surrendered eight hits and had just two clean innings. But he didn't issue any walks, two double plays were helpful and only one Orioles baserunner advanced past second base. "The key to his outing for me was his ability to [get] a ground ball when we needed it," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "We had a couple of double plays early that kept his pitch count down, and we were able to leave him out there. "But I tell you what. The quality of his stuff was outstanding. He made some mistakes up in the zone early, but once he got two strikes on a hitter, he buried them." Hernandez played into the Orioles' hands early, giving them a lot of fastballs. "The first three innings, I got lucky," he said. "Then, I started throwing more breaking balls and they were swinging. We started going to breaking balls and changeups." Catcher Rob Johnson agreed, and the Orioles then began playing into Hernandez's hands. "We were mixing in more stuff," Johnson said. "They came out right away and were just hacking. He can throw any pitch he basically wants in any count, and we started throwing more breaking pitches and changeups." After extricating from a first-and-third, two-out jam in the fifth inning, Felix retired 13 of the final 16 batters he faced, threw 112 pitches (70 for strikes) and, for the first time this season, every Mariners reliever got the night off. Even so, if not for Tuiasosopo's play with two outs in the fourth inning, the Mariners might well have been on the losing end of a 1-0 count to Orioles starter Kevin Millwood. Seattle loaded the bases when Jose Lopez walked, Casey Kotchman singled with one out, and Tuiasosopo singled sharply to right field with two outs. Johnson bounced a high chopper up the middle, and it was fielded by second baseman Justin Turner behind the bag. He flipped the ball to shortstop Cesar Izturis, but Tuiasosopo just beat the throw. "That changed the whole game," Wilson said. "It looked like the end of the inning, and the next thing you know he's safe and it pumps everyone up, including me. It gave me a chance to go up to the plate. That was the play of the game." Wilson, who had been hit by a Millwood pitch the previous inning, hit back -- with a bases-clearing double into right-center. "It was a cutter," Wilson said. "He started me off with one and I took it, and then I fouled off a fastball. I think he might come back with the cutter. "I just wanted to make sure I didn't try to pull it. He kind of left it up and I hit it in the right spot, where nobody was able to catch it. It was nice to give Felix those runs. Obviously, with 'Fifi' on the mound, you don't have to get him too many runs." Indeed, give Hernandez a three-run lead, and you can pretty much count on a win. The only run he surrendered, in the first inning, was unearned, and he hit the pillow later in the night with a 2.15 ERA. "He's one of the best pitchers in all of baseball," the Orioles' Luke Scott said. "He did a good job of mixing up his pitches, hitting his spots, good sinker, good velocity on his fastball, hard curve, hard slider, good changeup. He worked both sides of the plate. His ball was darting around." Wilson's key hit capped an impressive homestand for the veteran shortstop. He went 7-for-26 with four doubles and five RBIs. He also was hit by pitches three times and fielded balls hit to his right, left and right at him. As for the homestand, Hernandez spoke for everyone, "We played good baseball and won a lot of games."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.