Most likely, anyway. Félix Hernández becomes a free agent after the season and, given how greatly his skills have diminished over the past several years, it’s almost 100% certain that he won’t pitch for the Mariners again. But that’s a concern for another day. Last night was the time to celebrate King Félix and the 15 mostly wonderful seasons he gave to the Mariners and their fans.
Those seasons included the Cy Young Award in 2010, two second-place Cy Young finishes and six top-ten finishes. They included six All-Star team selections which, amusingly, did not include the season in which he won that Cy Young Award. They included a perfect game, tossed against the Tampa Bay Rays at Safeco Field on August 15, 2012. It was at the conclusion of that perfect game that Hernández struck what would become the most iconic photo taken of him, as seen above.
Overall, Hernández won 169 games for the Mariners, losing 136. His ERA of 3.42 puts him in a virtual tie for the all-time team lead with Randy Johnson, though due to the three runs he gave up last night, Johnson has him barely beat if you go out to the thousandths place (Johnson is 3.41723, Hernández is 3.41910). The only negative thing about his tenure in Seattle: the Mariners could never surround him with the talent to make the postseason. The Mariners never once won even 90 games during his 15 seasons and only finished higher than third place on two occasions. Given that they had a future Hall of Famer in Ichiro Suzuki and a great like Hernández playing together for most of those years, it’s hard to tell the story of King Félix of Seattle without casting a condemning glance at the men who put those Mariners teams together.
Last night the King pitched one of his longer and grittier recent outings. His skills are not what they once were but he made it to the sixth inning for only the second time in September. At that point manager Scott Servais took him out to the ovation of the crowd. When he did so, Servais said “You will always be the king in this town.” A misty-eyed Hernández then waved to the crowd and made his slow walk back to the home dugout in Seattle for likely the final time.
It’s unclear what the future holds for Hernández. He just finished his third straight season with a below league average ERA+ and 2019 was particularly ghastly for him on the mound. While he’s still only 33, he came up for good at 19 and was a full-time starter at 20, so there are a lot of miles on that elbow, that shoulder, and those legs. Smart money would not have him returning to his old form or anything particularly close to it in the future. Smart money may even be laid on the idea that he’s, frankly, done as a pitcher. We’ll have the offseason to see how that plays out and whether a club takes a chance on him with a minor league or incentive-laden deal to come to spring training next February.
But if that doesn’t pan out — if we have just witnessed the final game of Félix Hernández — we have seen a great career from one of the greatest pitchers of his era.