Tuesday was a day to forget in the Great Northwest. The Mariners were in the middle of a grueling road trip that had already taken its toll in the AL Wild Card standings, but with Felix Hernandez on the mound at the Rogers Centre in the second of four north of the border, most M’s fans must have felt that a turnaround was imminent.
Instead, the King came out of the dugout in the bottom of the fifth inning leading 2-1 only to get lit up for seven runs, all earned. By the time that the Jays had finished rounding the bases, Dominic Leone had been called into action, and Seattle’s chances of securing a spot in the one-game playoff had taken an enormous hit.
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But Felix may not have just cost his team any remaining hope of October baseball: he likely for all intents and purposes handed the AL Cy Young Award to Cleveland’s Corey Kluber, who tonight concluded a stellar 2014 with eight scoreless innings at home against Tampa Bay.
Though King Felix flirted with a sub-2.00 ERA for much of the year and his streak of 7.0+ IP, 2 ER or fewer starts made many including myself recall memories of Pedro Martinez knifing through sluggers in 2000, he will go into his final start on Sunday at 14-6 with a deceptively high 2.34 ERA. In his five September starts, he is only 1-1 for a contending team, though in those three no-decisions he gave up only 2 ER in 20.0 IP (0.90 ERA).
That mediocre record down the stretch, punctuated by a deflating penultimate performance that took all remaining wind out of his team’s sails, will dissuade many a voter.
Kluber on the other hand, is 18-9 with a 2.44 ERA. But particularly impressive was his September. Kluber won his final five starts, going at least eight innings in four of them and bringing his season ERA down nearly three tenths of a point. He led Cleveland from the brink of early elimination on a charge that, though it will come up short, was a much more valiant end than Seattle’s.
Felix may also lose some votes to Chicago’s Chris Sale. Though the lefty is expected to finish no higher than third, his 2.17 ERA now one-ups Felix, and even a complete game shutout in the finale would not get the King’s ERA down to that level.
The biggest reason that Hernandez may not achieve the pinnacle of pitching this year, however, is the backlash that followed his 2010 Cy Young campaign. Old-school pundits across the nation, perhaps loudest among them Michael Wilbon, have long found it appalling that the BBWAA gave a 13-12 hurler on a 100-loss club the Cy over David Price and C.C. Sabathia. Whether the writers will do that again when Kluber’s 18 wins are superior and his ERA is comparable remains to be seen.
The Mariners and their fans will in all likelihood have their hearts torn out by Sunday evening, as a promising season falls by the wayside. Unfortunately, any consolation they would have received were their ace to win his second Cy Young will probably also be dashed, all because of one excruciating inning.