Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Immaculate, Twice in a Month!

The chisel marks have barely cooled on the Immaculte Inning rock when suddenly, Felix Hernandez etches his name into baseball immortality. Last night, the Seattle Mariners pitcher struck out the side in the fourth inning against the Florida Marlins, becoming the 13th American League pitcher to throw an Immaculate Inning. The feat came in a particular string of dominance for Hernandez, who ended up striking out six straight from the third to the fifth inning. The victims:

Jeremy Hermida
Pitch 1: Fastball (89 mph) down and inside corner, called strike
Pitch 2: Splitter (88 mph) down and inside corner, called strike
Pitch 3: Curveball (85 mph) outside corner, swinging strike

Jorge Cantu
Pitch 4: Fastball (97 mph) belt high over the plate, called strike
Pitch 5: Fastball (97 mph) belt high over the plate, swinging strike
Pitch 6: Fastball (96 mph) chest high and inside, foul tip caught by catcher

Mike Jacobs
Pitch 7: Curveball (84 mph) belt high, outside corner, called strike
Pitch 8: Fastball (96 mph) thigh high, way outside, swinging strike
Pitch 9: Slider (88 mph) thigh high, inside corner, called strike

Hernandez is just the third pitcher to throw an immaculate inning during interleague play, matching the Padres' Brian Lawrence who threw one against the Orioles in 2002 and Rick Helling's effort for the Brewers against the Tigers in 2006. The Florida-Sun Sentinel has the story, including this quote fom Jacobs:

"After facing him, it's not surprising he can do that. He did a good job filling the strike zone up with everything he had. He pitched everybody different every at-bat. He's pretty nasty. He's one of the better [ones] I've ever seen."
This AP story has more:

Portraying his youth, Hernandez was ambivalent to his accomplishments.

"I was just trying to throw strikes. That's all,'' Hernandez said. "I didn't know it was a nine (pitches), but it felt good.''

Despite the dominant start to the game, striking out nine and at one point retiring 11 straight hitters, Hernandez struggled to keep the Mariners in the lead. In the sixth inning he gave up three runs (two earned) and left the game in the eighth inning with a respectable pitching line, but nothing like it was shaping up to be in the fateful fourth. So in this one game we have a microcosm of Hernandez's career: at times, absolutely brilliant, and worthy of a "King." At other times, he flounders and winds up with a performance that's simply above average.

After a rookie season that stunned the American league, Hernandez struggled in 2006, putting up an ERA+ of just 98. A simply above average season followed in 2007, an ERA+ of 110 and only 165 strikeouts in 190 innings, a career low for him. This season is off to a great start, however. Amid talks of a long-term contract from the Mariners, he's got an ERA of 2.87 (139 ERA+) in 103 innings, striking out 91. He's got his coaches finally calling him an "ace" again. Whatever his title, today, he is Immaculate.

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