There wasn’t even a near-miss in this one. Felix Hernandez dominated the Rays from top to bottom on Wednesday, striking out 12 in a perfect game to beat Tampa Bay 1-0. It was his first career no-hitter and the first perfect game in Mariners history.
As for the Rays, this is becoming old hat for them. Although they’re only been around since 1998, they’re now the first franchise in major league history to be on the losing side in three perfect games. They also had perfect games thrown against them by Mark Buehrle in 2009 and by Dallas Braden in 2010.
Hernandez simply cruised today, even after Rays manager Joe Maddon took the field in the middle of a Matt Joyce at-bat in the seventh to lodge complaints about Rob Drake’s strike zone. And, make no mistake, it was a big strike zone. However, even a small one might not have prevented Hernandez from making history. Besides some fantastic fastball command, he had probably the best changeup I’ve ever seen from him today. He threw B.J. Upton several in a row in the seventh, and Upton still never had a chance.
Hernandez pitched himself right into the think of the AL Cy Young race with today’s performance. Rebounding from a rough patch in May and early June, he’s now won his last seven decisions and is 11-5 with a 2.60 ERA for the season. He’s fifth in the AL in ERA, tied for second in strikeouts (174) and first in innings (180). He now has four shutouts. With one more, he’d be the first AL pitcher to get to five since David Wells in 1998.
Infielder Javier Baez is back in camp with the Cubs after helping Puerto Rico to a second-place finish in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He was the focal point of what was, to many, the most memorable play of the entire tournament: Baez pointed at catcher Yadier Molina, who was attempting to throw out a would-be base-stealer, before applying the tag for the final out of the eighth inning.
While Baez didn’t receive much criticism for his theatrics, aside from an insignificant handful of spoilsports, he is one of the players who most exemplifies the emotional, celebratory culture that foreign players bring to Major League Baseball. U.S. (and Tigers) second baseman Ian Kinsler is on the other side of that spectrum, as he said prior to the WBC final that he hopes kids mimic the solemn way U.S. players play the game rather than the emotional, passionate way players from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic play the game.
Baez isn’t about to apologize for the way he and his teammates play the game. Via CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney, Baez said, “We do a great job playing and having fun out there. That’s what it’s all about. This is a game. It’s not as serious as a lot of people take it. but, you know, everybody’s got their style and their talent. I have a lot of fun.”
He continued, “It’s their choice to look at how we play, how excited we get. To us, it’s really huge what we did, even though we didn’t win. All of Puerto Rico got really together. We were going through a hard time over there and everything got fixed up for at least three weeks. Hopefully, they keep it like that.”
Angels outfielder Mike Trout came up with an idea that would allow less experienced umpires an opportunity to call some major league spring training action. As ESPN’s Buster Olney reports, Trout thinks the veteran umpires should only call five or six innings as they get back into regular season shape. The rest of the innings could be called by minor league umpires.
According to Olney, baseball officials loved Trout’s idea when they heard about it last week. One official said, “It makes a lot of sense for a lot of different reasons.” Another said, “That’s Trout — he’s always paying attention to stuff beyond what he’s doing.”
Of course, I have to agree that the suggestion is a great one. As Olney notes, the turnover rate for umpires every year is relatively low, so younger, less-experienced umpires have few opportunities to get a feel for what it’s like calling major league action. Even beyond the actual interpretation of the rules, interacting with big league personalities would also be helpful for minor league umpires.