Saturday, April 2, 2011

Mariners win opener 6-2 over Athletics behind King Felix's CG win

The Seattle Mariners)1-0) start the Eric Wedge era off with a win over the Oakland Athletics(0-1) 6-2. The Mariners who have now won five straight opening day games primarily because of ace pitcher Felix Hernandez(1-0) who set franchise history today. Hernandez the reigning Cy Young award winner became the first Mariners pitcher to pitch a complete game win on opening day. The Mariners scored some runs for Hernandez unlike last year due to five errors by the A's. The Mariners had just enough timely hitting and chased Trevor Cahill to last just 4 2/3 innings. Behind Hernandez who was dominant after the first inning the Mariners just sat back and watched Hernandez finish the A's in just 108 pitches. The Mariners are hoping to rebound from a 100 loss season last year and with Hernandez every fifth day there should be some improvement.

The game started off rough for Hernandez just like he did last season in the first inning. After a single by Coco Crisp to start the game off for the Athletics, Hernandez quickly retired the next two batters. Then Josh Willingham stepped up to the plate. Willingham was a big offensive free agent signing by the A's in the offseason. Willingham jumped on the first pitch which was a fastball grooved down the middle to deep left field for a home run to give the A's a 2-0 lead on the Mariners. Hernandez then struck out Hideki Matsui to end the inning.

In the third inning the Mariners made a two out rally against A's ace Trevor Cahill. First Ichiro reach on an infield single which was the first hit of the season for the Mariners. Then Chone Figgins would get a base hit to right field which was the first ball hit out of the infield for the Mariners. Figgins and Ichiro would then do a double steal to give the Mariners second and third with two outs for Milton Bradley. After getting two strikes on Bradley Cahill lost him and eventually walked him. Then fell behind former Athletic Jack Cust 3-0 but battled back to have a full count. Then on the full count pitch Cahill walked Cust which forced Ichiro to score the first run of the season. Cahill would eventually get Justin Smoak out but the Mariners pulled within 2-1.

The Mariners who kept stranding runners eventually ran up the pitch count on Cahill. Cahill only lasted 4 2/3 innings but did allow just one earned run while striking out eight batters but did allow four hits and four walks. Cahill had also thrown 105 pitches. In the sixth inning the Mariners were facing Jerry Blevins who walked Brendan Ryan. After a Jack Wilson bunt the Athletics pulled Blevins for Craig Breslow to face Ichiro. Ichiro recorded his second hit of the game to left field driving in Ryan from second base to tie the game up. After Ichiro was thrown out trying to steal his third base of the game thunder struck for the Mariners. Figgins who hit one home run all of last season took Breslow deep to left field to give the Mariners a 3-2 lead. That was all Hernandez needed as he was in a groove.

For the Mariners a 3-2 lead felt like a 10 run lead with the way Hernandez was pitching. Hernandez from the second inning through seventh inning allowed just one base runner which was eliminated by a double play. In the seventh inning the Mariners blew the game open thanks to two Athletics errors. Cust led off the inning with a walk then Smoak belted a double to deep center. Miguel Olivo then hit what would have been an RBI groundout but Derrick Barton made a throwing error allowing Olivo to be safe and Smoak to move to third base. Cust scored giving the Mariners a 4-2 lead. Then Brad Ziegler trying to pick off Olivo threw the ball away which allowed Smoak to score and Olivo to go all the way to third base giving the Mariners a 5-2 lead. Ryan then hit a fielders choice which the A's came home with it by a great slide by Olivo he was safe giving the Mariners a commanding 6-2 lead. The only question was if Wedge was going to let Hernandez go the distance.

Hernandez who got out of a jam in the eighth inning had just 94 pitches. Wedge even though this was opening day let his ace finish the game. Hernandez retired the A's in order ending the game by striking out Barton then David DeJesus. Hernandez showed everyone why he won the Cy Young last year. Over his last eight innings he had allowed just three hits. Hernandez finished the game going nine innings, allowing five hits, walking nobody and striking out five. The Mariners are without closer David Aardsma and with Hernandez having a low pitch count Wedge made the right call. Now the Mariners begin the season like they have the last four seasons which is 1-0. The Mariners were helped out by their 1-2 punch at the top of the lineup Ichiro going 2-4 with a run scored, an rbi, two stolen bases and a walk. Figgins was also huge going 2-5 with a home run, run scored, an rbi, and a stolen base. Olivo in his first game back as a Mariner was 2-5 with a run scored and an rbi as well. The Mariners despite striking out 14 times and hit just 1-11 W/RISP did just enough to win. It helps to have Hernandez dealing the way he was.

Star of the game:

No offense to Chone Figgins but this was an easy choice. Felix Hernandez was his dominant self and when he gets any run support that is an automatic win for the Mariners. Hernandez gave up a two run bomb in the first inning but unlike most pitchers quickly found focus and struck out the next hitter. Hernandez only had five strikeouts but had 14 ground outs. Hernandez who had thrown 39 pitches after two innings went the next seven innings throwing just 69 pitches. Hernandez who improves to 3-0 with a 1.70 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 27 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings in four opening day starts. Hernandez like he did in the past came out and dominated on opening day once again.

Unsung Hero:

To me that is Jack Cust. Cust was 0-2 with an RBI but had three walks. In five at bats Cust faced a full count in all five at bats. Cust by doing the little things like working the count allowed the Mariners to raise the pitch count on Trevor Cahill. Cahill despite allowing just one run and striking out eight couldn't even last five innings. Most teams have poor middle relief so better to face them than an ace like Cahill. Cust will drive fans crazy with his strikeouts but he will also work the count as well.

Hitting stars:

This goes to the top of the order Ichiro and Chone Figgins. Those two combined were 4-9, with two runs scored, two rbi's, three stolen bases and a home run. The Mariners are hoping for a bounce back year from Figgins and hope Ichiro does what he always does. Ichiro today moved within one hit of tying Edgard Martinez franchise record for most hits as a Mariner. Ichiro with two hits will be the all-time leader.

All in all, the Mariners just won one game out of 162 but it feels good to get a win after last year. The Mariners with a new manager are hoping to ride the pitching staff this year. The Mariners are hoping on offense to do the little things like I mentioned with Cust. Ultimately this is a long season and to change your thoughts on the team or any individual after one game is just crazy. At least one in five games we get to enjoy the greatness which is watching Felix Hernandez pitch. Hernandez showed why again on opening day he is the best pitcher in the American League. For Eric Wedge his first game as a manager couldn't have gone more smoothly. Now today with Jason Vargas on the hill I have a feeling Wedge will have to do some managing today. Enjoy the win Mariners fans we deserve it after last year. Just remember one in five days we are lucky to watch a great talent like Felix Hernandez entering his prime.

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