Felix Hernandez: The Once and Future King

Yesterday Felix Hernandez, aka King Felix walked into the big ballyard in the Bronx, surveyed his domain, and shut down the Yankees in about the time it takes the D train to get from Yankee Stadium to Coney Island and back. Each of his three pitches was working; the Yankees got two hits and two walks and sent only three batters over the minimum to the plate. 101 pitches from the masterful Venezuelan’s right arm and it was all over.
His last visit to the Bronx was not as pleasant. I’ll admit, I came that evening to see the great Ichiro hit, and also in hopes that King Felix would shut down the Yankees. He did wonderfully for about six innings but then they chased him. In the beginning of this season, in fact, The King was not very regal at all. But remember, like Ichiro had been, he’s playing for a rather poor Seattle team.
In his last 10 starts he is 6-0 with a 1.41 ERA and three complete-game shutouts—including the powerful Yankees and last year’s AL champs, the Texas Rangers. The span includes a separate 7-inning stint against the Yankees last week when he not only won the game but also broke snarky Alex Rodriguez’s hand with a pitch, earning points among Major League fans of every team except the Yankees (and probably a few of their followers were secretly happy, too).
What can I say about King Felix? He was born in Valencia, Venezuela (site of their Baseball Hall of Fame) in April 1986, about a month before I graduated from college. In the ensuing 26 years our careers have diverged slightly. The Mariners brought him into the big leagues old-school—he was pitching in Seattle at age 19, and by the end of this season, at age 26, he’ll already have 100 wins and one Cy Young Award (if he has a hot August and September, maybe two).
I love the fact that the voters gave Felix the Cy Young Award in 2010, when his record was only 13-12. He had a 2.27 ERA and 232 strikeouts. But the Mariners won only 61 games that season against a whopping 101 losses. Felix was a king among jesters.
At this rate he may pass Johan Santana as the best Venezuelan Major League pitcher. Johan, who I witnessed in person shut down the Padres on 96 pitches prior to his first no-hitter the following turn, still has magic in his arm, but after major surgery in 2010, how much? Shortly after his no-no the Mets put Johan on the disabled list. Johan, like King Felix, has had the bad fortune of pitching exceptionally on not-so-exceptional teams—the Minnesota Twins and New York Mets, but like Felix persevered with a low ERA and a decent winning percentage (and was awarded the American League Cy Young twice in three years).
Johan is an exceptional athlete with a warrior’s heart, on a promising Mets team, so he’ll add to those 139 wins. But Felix Hernandez is seven years younger and so is his right arm. Will a big contract after 2014 lure him away from the comfortable anonymity of Seattle and heap pressure on Felix?
The 26-year-old is now 4-1 in the new Yankee Stadium. I believe he’ll thrive under the bright lights, if he ever leaves the Emerald City. In any case, I have the feeling that when Felix Hernandez pumped his fist after striking out fellow All-Star Robinson Cano on Saturday, we were looking at the once and future King of Venezuelan pitching.
Today’s game featured former Seattle All Star pitcher Freddy Garcia against Japanese newcomer Hisashi Iwakuma, reversing the matchup of King Felix against New York’s Nipponese hurler, Horoki Kurodo—maybe the first time in history that two Venezuelans have matched up against two Japanese pitchers in consecutive games in the same series! Garcia has 149 wins in a 14-year Major League career.)


About vzbaseball

Writer, Musician, Baseball Fanatic. Lonely Planet, Fodor's, scouring the nation and globe for stories. Big fish, small pond.
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