SEATTLE — King Felix now has a crowning achievement.
Felix Hernandez pitched the Seattle Mariners' first perfect game and the 23rd in baseball history, overpowering the Tampa Bay Rays in a brilliant 1-0 victory Wednesday.
The 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner has long talked of his desire to achieve pitching perfection. He finally accomplished it against the Rays, striking out the side twice and finishing with 12 strikeouts.
It was the third perfect game in baseball this season — a first — joining gems by Chicago's Philip Humber against the Mariners in April and San Francisco's Matt Cain versus Houston in June. More than half of all perfectos — 12 — have come in the last 25 seasons.
This also was the sixth no-hitter in the majors this season, three of them at Safeco Field. Humber threw his gem in Seattle, then six Mariners pitchers combined to hold the Los Angeles Dodgers hitless at the park on June 8.
For the Rays, it was an all-too-familiar feeling. This was the third time in four seasons they had a perfect game pitched against them, following efforts by Dallas Braden in 2010 and Mark Buehrle in 2009.
"I don't have any words to explain this," Hernandez said to the crowd, speaking on the field after the final out. "I've been working so hard to throw one and today is for you guys."
Desmond Jennings pinch hit for Jose Lobaton to open the ninth. Hernandez got ahead 1-2 before Jennings fouled off two straight and Hernandez fanned him on a 92 mph fastball down in the zone. Jeff Keppinger batted for Elliot Johnson and grounded out to shortstop on a 1-2 pitch.
With one out to go, Sean Rodriguez got ahead 2-0 in the count. Hernandez came back with two straight breaking balls for strikes and ended perfection with a called third strike on his 113th pitch.
Hernandez (11-5) threw his arms up to the sky and was mobbed by teammates at the pitcher's mound. He embraced catcher John Jaso for a few seconds and then shared hugs with the rest of his teammates.
"It was in my mind, the whole game, it was in my mind," Hernandez said.
Hernandez likes to wear his hat crooked to the side — many of his pitches weren't very straight, either.
The Venezuelan ace had the Rays swinging over his sharp curve all afternoon, with Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist and Carlos Pena each striking out in the eighth chasing breaking balls.
With a fastball in the mid-90s mph and an effective change, Hernandez simply wasn't hittable. He also wasn't about to walk anyone, and got the final out after starting off Rodriguez with two balls.
The Rays seemed to try another technique to disrupt Hernandez, and that also failed. With two outs in the seventh, manager Joe Maddon came out to argue after plate umpire Rob Drake called strike one on a borderline pitch to Matt Joyce. Maddon stuck around for a minute or so to argue and when he left, Hernandez was still right in rhythm.
"He never did struggle. He kept making good pitches the whole way through," Jaso said. "The last at-bat of the game, falling down 2-0, he just kept his confidence. It was great."
Unlike Cain's perfect game in June, Hernandez didn't need the help of a career-high in strikeouts or spectacular catches.
It was the fifth time this season Hernandez has struck out 10 or more. Most of his outs were on the infield with only five fly ball outs.
Seattle's only run came thanks to the aggressive baserunning of Brendan Ryan. He led off the third with his first hit in 10 at-bats against Jeremy Hellickson (7-8) with a sharp single to left. He was still standing at first with two outs when he got a great jump on a curveball that bounced in the dirt and escaped Lobaton. Ryan never hesitated at second and made it all the way to third. He then jogged home when Jesus Montero followed with a single to left for the only run.
First: Sam Fuld flies out to right fielder Eric Thames. B.J. Upton grounds out, shortstop Brendan Ryan to first baseman Justin Smoak. Matt Joyce grounds out, second baseman Dustin Ackley to first baseman Justin Smoak.
Second: Evan Longoria strikes out swinging. Ben Zobrist grounds out, shortstop Brendan Ryan to first baseman Justin Smoak. Carlos Pena flies out to left fielder Trayvon Robinson.
Third: Jose Lobaton flies out to right fielder Eric Thames. Elliot Johnson strikes out swinging, catcher John Jaso to first baseman Justin Smoak. Sean Rodriguez flies out to left fielder Trayvon Robinson.
Fourth: Sam Fuld lines out to third baseman Kyle Seager. B.J. Upton strikes out swinging. Matt Joyce strikes out swinging.
Fifth: Evan Longoria lines out to second baseman Dustin Ackley. Ben Zobrist flies out to left fielder Trayvon Robinson. Carlos Pena grounds out, catcher John Jaso to first baseman Justin Smoak.
Sixth: Jose Lobaton strikes out swinging. Elliot Johnson strikes out swinging. Sean Rodriguez strikes out swinging.
Seventh: Sam Fuld grounds out, second baseman Dustin Ackley to first baseman Justin Smoak. B.J. Upton grounds out, shortstop Brendan Ryan to first baseman Justin Smoak. Matt Joyce grounds out to first baseman Justin Smoak.
Eighth: Evan Longoria strikes out swinging. Ben Zobrist strikes out swinging. Carlos Pena strikes out swinging.
Ninth: Pinch-hitter Desmond Jennings replaces Jose Lobaton. Jennings strikes out swinging. Pinch-hitter Jeff Keppinger replaces Elliot Johnson. Keppinger grounds out, shortstop Brendan Ryan to first baseman Justin Smoak. Sean Rodriguez called out on strikes.