No-hitters and perfect games have been all the rage in Major League Baseball so far in 2012, with five no-hitters and two perfectos already in the record books going into play Wednesday. That list got a little longer as Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners threw the 23rd perfect game in big league history and third this season, turning the trick in a 1-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at Safeco Field.
Hernandez fanned a dozen hitters, striking out the side in the sixth and eighth innings and striking out five of his final six hitters. Sean Rodriguez took a called third strike on a 2-2 pitch to end the game and complete the perfect game for Hernandez, who wasn’t in trouble at all on the day. Only three hitters reached three-ball counts on the afternoon and Hernandez recorded more ground ball outs (eight) than fly balls (seven, five of which were caught in the outfield.)
Turns out that Hernandez needed to keep Tampa Bay in check; the Mariners scored all of one run to squeeze out a 1-0 victory. Jesus Montero’s two out, run scoring single in the third inning that plated Brendan Ryan was the only thing keeping us from a potential 0-0 game. That run was set up when Ryan stole second base and advanced to third on a wild pitch by Jeremy Hellickson (7-8). Montero singled to left field and there was no chance for Sam Fuld to cut Ryan down at the plate.
Prior to Hernandez’s gem, perfect games were tossed by Philip Humber of the White Sox against the same Mariners at Safeco Field on April 21 and Matt Cain had his at AT&T Park in San Francisco against the Houston Astros on June 13. In addition to those and Hernandez’s gems, Jered Weaver no-hit the Twins on May 2, Johan Santana threw the first no-hitter in Mets’ franchise history on June 1 and the Mariners used six pitchers to no-hit the Dodgers on June 8, giving Safeco Field three no-hitters on the year. Both of the Mariners no-hitters were 1-0 victories, as the Mariners continue to struggle at the plate this year scoring runs.
Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon was ejected in the seventh inning of the contest for arguing balls and strikes with home plate umpire Rob Drake while Matt Joyce was at the plate. After Maddon was ejected, Joyce worked a 3-2 count before grounding out to first to close out the frame. In the eighth, Hernandez fanned Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist and Carlos Pena, setting the stage for the ninth inning. First, Desmond Jennings went down on strikes pinch hitting for Jose Lobaton. Jeff Keppinger, hitting for Elliot Johnson, grounded to short on a 1-2 pitch before Rodriguez came to the plate as the final victim of the contest.
Hernandez tossed the first perfect game in Mariners history and joins Randy Johnson, who threw a no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers on June 2, 1990 and Chris Bosio, who no-hit the Boston Red Sox on April 22, 1993 as the only pitchers to throw solo no-hitters for the team. The combination of Kevin Millwood, Charlie Furbush, Stephen Pryor, Lucas Luetge, Brandon League and Tom Wilhelmsen no-hit the Dodgers earlier this year in the first Seattle no-hitter at Safeco Field; the three no-hitters at the park this year are the first in the thirteen year history of Safeco.
Hernandez will become the latest pitcher to attempt to match Johnny Vander Meer’s back-to-back no hitters in his next start on Tuesday when the Mariners face the Cleveland Indians.