Saturday night at T-Mobile Park was a special one. It was a mix of nostalgia, sadness, and acceptance. The nostalgia was how Felix pitched like his old self, throwing a three-hitter through 5.2 innings. The sadness aspect was that this start against the Blue Jays was a glimpse of how Felix used to look. And unless you’re in complete denial, it was one of Felix’s last ever starts as a Mariners.
The acceptance comes from realizing that Felix hasn’t been his phenom teenage self for years. It’s coming to terms with the end of an era. Including myself, there are those who would want Felix to hang up his cleats with the Mariners despite his performance decline.
It’s remembering that despite our favorite players over the years, baseball is a business and an extension would eat up too much salary during a rebuild that’s going okay so far.
Many of your fans had a hunch this would be the King’s swan song as a Mariner in 2019. Which is why it’s frustrating that he was out with injury for most of the last hoorah. So what showed on Saturday night was a changing of the guard.
And the 2019 Mariners are a rarity indeed with this process. After Ichiro officially retired as a player in April, this will make two Mariner sendoffs in the same season.
A key difference, for now, is that Ichiro called it quits as a Mariner, with the club who gave him his start. He was traded to the dark side in summer 2012 but showed his loyalty during his brief second Mariner stint.
With Felix, there’s still that ambiguity about what will happen in 2020 and beyond. Will he sign with an Eastern juggernaut a la the Red Sox or Yanks? Will he sign with a fellow rebuilder like the Royals or Pirates in order to be a veteran mentor to other players?
Will he, like Ketel Marte, have a career revival after just needing a change of scenery? You want to hope so but chances of that look slim. If he’s been on the wind-down path since 2017, Felix may be outright done.
But that’s okay. He provided the Mariners with lots of highlights and exciting moments. Some pitchers have the “it” factor going until their final day on the mound.
Some begin to falter with their long-time team and after being traded away, find their stuff again. Justin Verlander, you come to mind. Others are great for most of their career but begin to lose it a little sooner than anticipated.
Felix happens to be one of those cases. So whether or not he goes to a contender, rebuilder, or flat-out retires, remember his good times before you complain about how he’s lost his edge out there.
Which is why Saturday’s start was emotional as well. We were brought back to the days where instead of hoping to give Felix enough runs, the tides switched and we yelled at the offense for not giving him enough support. Remember in 2013 when the poor guy twice left late with six-plus run leads and got the no-decision? Remember the dominant side of Felix.
Notable Felix Hernandez highlights:
- 8/4/05: Goes five innings of two-run, three-hit ball in debut at Comerica Park
- 8/9/05: Outduels Kyle Lohse for a stellar home debut, tossing eight shutout innings
- 4/2/07: In first career Opening Day start, dominates AL West champ A’s with an eight-inning, 12-strikeout masterpiece
- 4/11/07: With all the hype on Daisuke Matsuzaka, schools him on home turf for complete game one-hitter at Fenway
- 2009: Earns first All-Star appearance while finishing season one win behind 20!
- 2012: In four of five August starts, allows only one total run to opponents capped off by perfect game over Rays
- 7/15/14: Named All-Star Game starter and pitches well, striking out two in one inning of work
Felix, things have been good. Wherever you go after this season, we wish you well. Thanks for the many Mariner memories.