06/30/10 11:50 PM ET
Felix presides over Yankees in shutout
Saunders contributes two homers as Mariners roll in Bronx
By Jim Street / MLB.com
Back-to-back complete games pitched.
Two straight wins over the reigning World Series champions.
What in the world has gotten into the erstwhile underachieving Mariners, who have played the past two weeks the way many expected them to play the entire season?
Whatever the reason, the Mariners clinched their first winning month of the season on Wednesday night with a 7-0 victory over the Yankees before 46,309 at Yankee Stadium.
Right-hander Felix Hernandez was brilliant while following in the complete-game footsteps of left-hander Cliff Lee, holding the Yanks to a pair of doubles -- one of them on a ball that should have been caught -- for his third first-to-last-pitch outing of the campaign.
And Michael Saunders, who started the game in left field and moved over to center field in the second inning replacing the flu-stricken Franklin Gutierrez, had the game of his Major League career, hitting two home runs, driving in three runs and saving at least two with a nice catch.
"Growing up and watching Yankee Stadium, obviously there's a lot of history," said Saunders, referring to the old Yankee Stadium formerly located near the new one. "I was excited to come here, especially to play. Growing up, you always love to come watch a game, but to play here, I was really excited."
The Mariners (33-44) have won nine of their past 12 games and finished June with a 14-13 record -- their first winning month of the season. But they remain far behind the Rangers and still sit in last place in the American League West.
"It's nice to see the way this team is playing," said Russell Branyan, who contributed a two-run home run in his second game with the Mariners since being acquired from the Indians on Saturday. "The guys are swinging the bat well. I've only gotten to see two pitchers throw.
"Any time you can live up to your expectations and exceed them is not a bad thing. It was a heck of a performance by Fifi [Felix], and Cliff last night."
Felix's first start in the Yankees' new home followed a complete-game win by Lee on Tuesday night, marking the second time this season that the two aces won back-to-back starts.
This was the way the blueprint was drawn up in Spring Training.
"That might be the best pure stuff I have seen Felix have in a ballgame," marveled manager Don Wakamatsu. "It is awfully hard to catch him because the ball was moving all over the place.
"Realistically, that was a one-hitter, if you take [away] that one ball that was lost."
The only hits Hernandez allowed were a clean double into right field by Mark Teixeira in the fourth and a twilight-aided double by Colin Curtis in the fifth. Second baseman Chone Figgins lost Curtis' routine popup into shallow right field.
Hernandez never batted an eye. He retired the next 12 batters and 15 of the last 16, finishing with three walks and a season-high 11 strikeouts.
"It's as good as we've seen all year," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Between his sinker, his changeup, his curveball, he was really on tonight. He didn't get a whole lot of balls up in the zone. He got one up to Robbie [Cano] in the first, Saunders made a nice play in left field, and that was about it for our chances."
Hernandez was especially pumped for his first career start at the new Yankee Stadium and it showed. He walked Derek Jeter, struck out the next two, and walked Alex Rodriguez, putting two runners on base for Cano, the AL leader in hits.
"We were playing him to go the other way, especially with Felix on the mound throwing a power sinker," Saunders said. "He ended up hitting one in the gap a little bit. Fortunately, I was able to get there. It was going to go over my head, and it was just a last-ditch effort to jump and try to catch the ball."
He made the catch and that was the only predicament Hernandez encountered all night.
"Everything was working," he said. "Everything. The slider was good, the fastball was pretty good, too. The four-seamer and the two-seamer -- everything was good."
The way Hernandez was throwing, he didn't need a whole lot of offense, but he was thrilled to get the runs.
Milton Bradley gave the Mariners a quick lead, blasting a leadoff home run to center field in the second inning, his eighth of the season and second since snapping an 0-for-23 skid in Milwaukee on Sunday.
Saunders, who hit no home runs in 221 at-bats for the Mariners last season, hit his sixth this season in his 103rd at-bat, a leadoff poke into the right-center-field seats in the third inning, and reached the seats again in the eighth inning, a two-run shot into the second deck -- the first multihomer game of his MLB career.
Branyan hit his 11th home run of the season overall and his first in a Mariners uniform since last August 25 against the Athletics.
"Offensively, I thought we put pressure on them all night," Wakamatsu said. "Bradley hit that home run to us early, [Jose] Lopez had a big two-out RBI [in the third] and all four of the home runs that we hit tonight came with two strikes. That was pretty impressive."
It was the first time since Sept. 27 that the Mariners hit at least four home runs in one game.
Figgins, meanwhile, stole his 23rd base of the season in the seventh inning, setting a club record with at least one theft in seven consecutive games, breaking a record Julio Cruz set in 1981.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.