Tuesday, April 23, 2013
HOUSTON — For once, it was a ketchup-and-baby-powder-splattered Felix Hernandez lying at the bottom of the shower pile.
Hernandez is usually the ringleader of the clubhouse roundup gangs that pull players into the showers for celebratory beer dousings and other indignities to commemorate milestone events. But on Monday night, after a 7-1 victory over the Houston Astros, some of Hernandez’s former victims got their last licks in to honor his 100th career victory.
“Man, that was unbelievable,” Hernandez said after drying himself off. “There’s going to be payback ... payback. That was bad.”
Hernandez was smiling when he said it and in truth, there wasn’t much else he could fault teammates for after they demolished the Astros the first five innings in building a 7-0 lead. Kyle Seager and Jesus Montero hit two-run homers, while Kendrys Morales added a solo shot, all off Astros starter Brad Peacock.
Rick Ankiel countered with a solo homer for Houston off reliever Carter Capps in the seventh after Hernandez had already left in the sixth. Hernandez scattered five hits and struck out nine.
Dustin Ackley chipped in with three hits while Justin Smoak also had a pair to pace the onslaught against a team with the worst record in the American League. The crowd of 23,201 at Minute Maid Park was taken out of the game early when Smoak drove in his first run since April 9 with a single in the first.
Before that hit, the Mariners were 1 for 25 with runners in scoring position on this trip. They had scored just six runs in five games before exceeding that total in this one contest.
“I know we’ve been struggling a little bit, but it’s early,” Hernandez said. “We’re going to get hot. We’re going to get hot and we’re going to score a lot of runs. I believe in my teammates and they try hard and they’re going to score.
“It makes you feel good as a pitcher and as a teammate, it makes you feel great.”
Hernandez hadn’t had too many nights like this in piling up 99 prior victories. He’d been denied No. 100 the past three times out, taking a no-decision last week despite tossing eight innings of one-run ball against Detroit.
This one could have also gone differently had the Mariners’ offense again struggled to score. Hernandez made it through only six innings on 98 pitches before being pulled for precautionary reasons because of a back stiffness issue.
But the Mariners had done more than enough by then to leave no doubt what the final result would be. Montero had been as nervous as his fellow Venezuelan countryman pregame, knowing he would be behind the plate and that the unspoken 100-win monkey was still on the team’s back.
Afterward, having clubbed a 433-foot monster blast to left-center for his first home run of the season, Montero could smile. Not only because of the win by Hernandez, but his chance to partake in the shower activities.
“I was the one who threw all the ketchup on him,” Montero said.
From across the room, Hernandez called out: “Hey, Montero! Payback is coming. Payback is coming.”
Montero nodded and smiled again.
“I just feel happy because I helped Felix to win,” he said. “I feel good because he finally got the 100 wins. And thank God I hit that homer. I gave him a little more confidence.
“I was a little worried. It was like ‘Two weeks, no home runs, what’s going on?’ But we got the win. That’s what’s important.”
It was indeed for Mariners manager Eric Wedge and the rest of a team that improved to 8-13 with two games left here against the club with the worst record in the majors. Wedge said the team needed some contributions like it got from younger players like Montero, Ackley and Smoak to get back in the win column.
“I thought they did a better job with pitches in the zone and being ready to hit,” Wedge said. “Because of that focus and aggressiveness, they were able to lay off of some pitches they’ve been swinging at.”
He added: “We drove the ball today much better than we have in a week or so. And that was an indicator of what we’re capable of doing and what we should be doing.”
And if they keep doing it, Hernandez might not have to wait as long for his next 100 wins.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Wedge said. “I’m glad it’s behind him. Obviously, it’s something you can’t not think about ... he’s accomplished so much and so quickly for a young man. But it’s a great accomplishment.”