OAKLAND, Calif. — In its latest iteration, the old Oakland Coliseum has been rebranded as the O.co Coliseum thanks to corporate sponsor Overstock.com. Based on what’s transpired the past few seasons, they could just as easily call it King Felix’s Palace.
There are plenty of reasons for the Mariners not to like the worn-down relic, but the place is special for their ace pitcher. And that’s good enough for them.
On a sun-drenched Saturday afternoon with the field finally in playable condition, Felix Hernandez delivered another outstanding performance in the cavernous old stadium.
The Mariners got 81 / 3 solid innings from Hernandez, the first save from Fernando Rodney in a Seattle uniform and home runs from Dustin Ackley and Abraham Almonte in a 3-1 victory over Oakland.
“He’s not bad at all,” Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said jokingly after the game. “It was one hell of a game.”
Hernandez was dominant for his first eight innings, allowing one run on four hits with eight strikeouts. He lost his shutout bid in the ninth inning, giving up a leadoff solo homer to Jed Lowrie.
Brandon Moss followed with a sharp single to center field and then advanced to second on a wild pitch. McClendon came out to the mound and had a brief conversation with Hernandez, then returned to the bench.
The plan was simple. Hernandez would pitch to the free swinging Yoenis Cespedes and then be done.
“He made the decision and it was up to him,” Hernandez said.
It worked out well. Hernandez got Cespedes to pop out to right field. There was a mildly hairy moment during the Cespedes at-bat when he hammered a ball to left field. The high fly ball hooked foul at the last moment.
“It scared me a little bit,” Hernandez said.
McClendon felt no such fears.
“It was foul all the way,” he said.
With Cespedes out, McClendon called on Rodney to pitch in his first save situation. He struck out John Jaso, his former catcher with the Rays, looking on an inside fastball and then blew an elevated fastball by Josh Reddick to end the game. Rodney had warmed up for potential save situations in two of the Mariners’ first three victories, but ninth-inning run explosions negated them. This was his first true save situation.
“I take my job seriously no matter if it’s a save situation or not,” he said. “No matter if you bring me in with a five-run lead or a 2-1 game, I’m going to do the same.”
The final Hernandez line of 81 / 3 innings pitched, one run allowed on six hits with a walk and eight strikeouts added to his impressive numbers against the Athletics in Oakland.
In his past 10 starts here — dating to early 2009 — he’s 5-0 with a 2.76 ERA. Does he like pitching in this park? Does he like this place more than most?
“I don’t know why,” he said. “I have no idea.”
He has 16 career victories against the A’s — the most against any team he’s faced. His game plan has never changed.
“You have to throw strikes early against those guys and get ahead,” he said.
Early on, it looked like it would be another game where the Mariners failed to provide run support for a solid Hernandez outing. Seattle hitters looked lost against A’s starter Dan Straily for the first four innings, managing just one hit and striking out seven times.
“The ball was really jumping out of his hand,” McClendon said. “He pitched in well. He pitched up well.”
But that all changed in the fifth inning. Kyle Seager led off with a double off the left-field wall. One batter later, Ackley drove a fastball into the right-field stands for a two-run homer.
“Once you see a guy a few times you get used to what he’s got,” Ackley said. “It definitely helps. You can kind of get used to the speed and the arm slot he has.”
With Hernandez cruising, Ackley was just looking for a hit to get Seager home. The home run was a bonus.
“At that point we were thinking, just get one run with the way he was pitching,” Ackley said.
The Mariners weren’t done. Almonte went longer after Ackley’s long ball. With two outs, Almonte crushed a pitch past right field, nearly landing in the upper deck.
“I was just looking for a good pitch to put a good swing on and do some damage on,” Almonte said.
The three runs were all Hernandez would need. He improved to 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA on the season.
“I feel good,” he said. “My arm feels really good. I have all my pitches working. Just want the ball every five days.”