Perfection!

August 16, 2012

The Rainiers picked up a 7-6 victory in Nashville on Wednesday night, getting a game-winning home run from Carlos Peguero to erase a rather poor performance up to that point.

I’m not going to write about that here today – you can get all of the details in the Rainiers game story link down below.

What we are talking about today is perfect games, and the tangential role Tacoma has played in them.

Felix Hernandez pitched the 23rd perfect game in Major League history yesterday, and we couldn’t be more proud of the former Rainiers star.

Felix opened the 2005 season in Tacoma’s starting rotation, when he was only 18 years old – he turned 19 the first week of the season, on April 8.

All eyes were on Felix that season. It was well-known that he was not only the top prospect on the team (a team that also included Shin-Soo Choo, Mike Morse, Jose Lopez, Yuniesky Betancourt, and Asdrubal Cabrera), but he was the top pitching prospect in Minor League Baseball at the time.

There was a season-long debate about when he would be ready for the majors. The gist of the argument was this: “He has major league stuff! Yeah, but he’s just a child – he’s 19 years old for crying out loud!”

By August, the time had come. We haven’t seen Felix in Tacoma since, and I sure hope we don’t see him again – unless he comes down for a public appearance or something.

In the years since 2005, Felix Hernandez has become the face of the Seattle Mariners franchise. Not just as the star of the big league team – it’s much deeper than that.

Signing Felix is the crowning achievement of the Mariners international scouting department. They spotted him in his early teen years in Venezuela, and forged relationships with his family to sign him when he became a free agent at age 16.

The Mariners player development staff hangs their hat on Felix as well. They nurtured him along his path to the majors leagues, helping him develop into a star. Both Daren Brown and Dwight Bernard – Tacoma’s manager and pitching coach – worked with Felix at Class-A Inland Empire in 2004.

The whole Mariners organization was grinning from ear-to-ear when Felix finished off the Rays yesterday.

Felix became the first *former* Tacoma player to pitch a perfect game in the majors.

One pitcher came to Tacoma and played *after* throwing a perfect game in the majors: Don Larsen pitched the most famous perfect game of them all, for the Yankees in the 1956 World Series.

At the end of his career, Larsen tried to get back to the majors with the Chicago Cubs organization. He has a brief stay with the 1968 Tacoma Cubs, pitching in six games as a reliever before hanging up his spikes.

As for minor league perfect games, Tacoma’s John Halama pitched the first nine-inning perfect game in Pacific Coast League history on July 7, 2001 at Cheney Stadium, against the Calgary Cannons.

This could be a one-of-a-kind situation, but it hasn’t been fully researched yet:

On May 29, 2005, Tacoma played at Fresno. The starting pitchers in that game were Felix Hernandez and Matt Cain. Both went on to become one of 23 pitchers to throw a perfect game in the majors.

Was this the only time in baseball history that both starting pitchers in a minor league game would go on to pitch perfect games in the majors?

We don’t know for sure, but it seems possible.

As for that day in Fresno: each pitcher went five innings. Felix left trailing, 2-0. The Rainiers rallied against the Fresno bullpen and tied it up. In the bottom of the ninth, Mickey Lopez – a former Rainiers and Mariners infielder playing for Fresno – hit a walk-off three-run homer. Here is the box score.

We have a Rainiers game tonight in Nashville at 5:05 (Pacific). Tacoma starts RHP D.J. Mitchell (0-2, 3.63) against Nashville RHP Wily Peralta (6-10, 4.95). The broadcast airs on South Sound Sports 850 AM and streams online right here.

Felix Hernandez Perfect Game Links:

Non-Felix links:

  • Here is my Rainiers game story from The News Tribune, about how Carlos Peguero and the Rainiers bullpen turned a potentially ugly loss into a 7-6 win over Nashville last night.
  • The Albuquerque Isotopes have a new name: the Albuquerque Sons Of Major Leaguers. They beat the Sky Sox yesterday, 11-5.
  • Round Rock crushed Reno, 14-1, as Leonys Martin had four hits. The Aces are struggling and have lost five in a row.
  • Is Salt Lake back in the race? The Bees won at Memphis, 5-2, and have won 11 of the last 13 games to pull within six games of Reno.
  • The Las Vegas 51s edged Omaha, 3-2. The paper focused on Omaha second baseman Johnny Giavotella.
  • Elih Villanueva and the New Orleans Zephyrs shut out Sacramento, 3-0.
  • Tucson outfielder Blake Tekotte is trying to find his swing, and the Padres were shut out by Iowa.
  • Ex-Rainiers abound in the latest round of Baseball America’s minor league transactions: Tampa released Matt Mangini and the Reds signed him, the Rockies signed Jeff Marquez, and the Mariners released Matt Fox and Ralph Henriquez from Double-A Jackson.
  • Funny how fate won’t let us bask in only the good news. Today also includes an update on the Greg Halman trial.

It’s heating up in Nashville – we’ve been lucky with the weather on this trip up until now.


When King Felix Ruled Tacoma

November 18, 2010

Felix Hernandez became the second former Tacoma pitcher to ever win a Cy Young Award when he was announced as the American League winner earlier today.

Felix joins Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry as the only two players to pitch for Tacoma on their way to the majors, and then win a Cy Young.*

Two other pitchers won the Cy Young award first, and then pitched for Tacoma later: Mike McCormick won the award for San Francisco in 1967, and then tried to revive his career with the Tacoma Twins in 1973. Cliff Lee won the award in 2008, and then had the one injury rehabilitation start for Tacoma in 2010.

Perry pitched for the Tacoma Giants from 1960 to 1963, and then he won two Cy Youngs – one with the Cleveland Indians in 1972, and another with the San Diego Padres in 1978.

Felix was with Tacoma in 2005, and he was the highlight of the Rainiers roster – he was the young phenom, he had a lot of hype, and he had overpowering stuff. Everybody looked forward to his starts that year – and he had six of them at home. Let’s go back in time five years…

Hernandez made the Rainiers opening day roster, but Tacoma fans didn’t get a look at Felix for a while – four of his first five starts were on the road.

He made his Triple-A debut on his 19th birthday, working six innings without allowing an earned run but taking a 3-0 loss in Fresno on April 8.

Felix made his Cheney Stadium debut on April 19 and lost to Sacramento, allowing three runs over six innings, but striking out eight. Dan Johnson hit a two-run double off him in the first inning, giving Felix an ERA for the first time – he had tossed 11 innings without allowing an earned run in his first two starts, both on the road. The attendance was 3,328 – an excellent total at the time for a Tuesday night game in April.

Felix won two more road starts before making his second home start on May 6, against Salt Lake. This was kind of a confounding outing – Felix allowed just two hits in seven innings, but they both were home runs. Jeff Mathis took him deep after a Curtis Pride walk, and Adam Pavkovich (remember him?) hit a solo shot later. Still, Felix picked up the win, improving to 4-2, 2.75. There was a very nice crowd on a clear day – 6,191.

The Rainiers hit the road again, and I got to see my first real Felix Hernandez masterpiece. It came on May 12 in Round Rock, and the Express had future Orioles slugger Luke Scott hitting third, and former Rainier and Mariner Charles Gipson in the leadoff spot. Felix dominated for seven shutout innings, giving up just two hits and one walk while striking out eight. He whiffed Scott twice. Masao Kida and George Sherrill finished off the combined 3-0 shutout. 

The road trip continued, and Felix got Albuquerqued in his worst Triple-A start – knocked out during a laborious five-run second inning; I remember staying up late into the night in the lobby of the dreaded MCM Elegante, listening in while Dan Rohn and Rafael Chaves dissected this game.

The Rainiers came home and nobody showed up for Felix’s third Cheney Stadium start – well, only you diehards did. The 2,111 of you who attended on May 23 got to see Felix’s best Triple-A start: seven scoreless innings against Memphis, nine strikeouts, just four hits allowed. Jeff Heaverlo and Sherrill finished off a 4-0 shutout. Felix was now 6-3, 2.63.

Felix then made two more road starts, at Fresno and Sacramento, and he was wild in both of them – walking eight batters in 11 innings – but nobody was hitting him hard, he allowed only seven hits total in the two games. This prompted more late nights with Rohny and Chavy. Their discussions became heated: was Felix ready? What can he improve? Will he throw strikes in the majors? Should we tell Hargrove he’s ready? Can we really send up this child – he’s only 19!

The kid didn’t answer any questions with his next outing – a home start on June 9, against Las Vegas. Felix walked five batters in 5.1 innings – but he struck out eight, gave up just five hits, and didn’t allow a run. Chris Buglovsky, Sean Green, and Kida polished off another Felix-started shutout.

Five days later, Felix tossed six scoreless innings at Cheney Stadium against Portland, striking out seven but walking four. Only three hits were allowed this time – and Green and Kida closed out yet another combined shutout. Felix was 8-4 with a 2.32 ERA and the youngest player in Triple-A baseball.

Three days later, throwing a standard between-starts bullpen session, Felix said he was a little stiff. The Mariners immediately shut him down for a month. The M’s had been trying to slow him down all season, often starting him on five days rest, trying to decrease injury risk. I think the organization wanted him to take a month off and was looking for any reason to do it – Felix wasn’t happy about it.

Hernandez returned in a relief role on July 10 in Tucson, pitching one inning. The team wanted him to rebuild arm strength out of the bullpen.

Felix had four more relief outings, all at home, in late July before returning to the rotation with a July 30 start against Omaha in front of 7,521 fans on a gorgeous, 86-degree Saturday evening in Tacoma. In what turned out to be Felix’s final minor league start, he tossed four no-hit innings, striking out seven and walking two.

Felix’s next start was in the major leagues, and now here we are five years later, and King Felix has a Cy Young Award. Congratulations, Felix – it was fun watching you on your way to the big leagues.

Now for the links:

  • Here is an early story on Felix’s award win, with reaction, from Kirby Arnold.
  • Geoff Baker posted a nice summary of the Cy Young award voting details.
  • The Mariners announced the signing of two minor league free agents late yesterday: infielder Sean Kazmar, and relief pitcher Justin Miller. Kazmar, 26, plays SS and 2B, he hit .275 with eight home runs and 53 RBI for Portland last year, and he will likely be on Tacoma’s opening day roster. Miller is a 33-year-old right-handed reliever who split his time between Albuquerque and the Dodgers last year. Miller has quite a bit of major league experience and may have a decent chance to make the Mariners roster in spring training – if not, we’ll happily take him.
  • Additionally, I have learned that the Mariners have either signed, or are very close to signing, two of their own minor league free agents: outfielder Mike Wilson, and pitcher Yusmeiro Petit.
  • Larry Stone says that the Hot Stove League is heating up earlier than usual.
  • Normally this would be the lead item – Tony DeFrancesco, the winningest active Triple-A manager, has left Sacramento and will manage the Houston Astros affiliate in Oklahoma City. Tony D won three PCL championships in seven years as Sacramento manager.
  • Padres officials toured the facility in Tucson. In this story, we learn that Tucson will play “four games in July” in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. The Rainiers have a July series in Tucson. Uh-oh…

Big week here in the Curto household, as we gear up for the rivalry game. Did you know that for decades – and perhaps still to this day, I’m not sure – John Elway refused to talk about this game? “Only a miracle can save the Bears now…”

*Former Tacoma Giant Juan Marichal never won a Cy Young award. There was only one award for both leagues until 1967, and he was always up against Koufax and Gibson.


A Few Interesting Mariners Stories

September 24, 2010

We had a rare day in which a lot of interesting things happened on the field in the Mariners game yesterday. So, let’s hit the links:

  • In The News Tribune, Larry LaRue got lots of Ichiro quotes in his Mariners game story.
  • Larry Stone analyzed Ichiro’s ten straight 200-hit seasons, and he wondered how many career hits Ichiro is capable of?
  • John McGrath also wrote about Ichiro. The losses are clearly getting to Johnny Mac.
  • Stone also wrote that by taking a 1-0 loss, Felix Hernandez may have helped his Cy Young candidacy. Jeff Sullivan at Lookout Landing agrees.
  • Even Buster Olney took a break from the pennant races and wrote about yesterday’s M’s-Jays game.
  • Larry LaRue caught up with former Rainiers pitcher Brandon Morrow.
  • The Mariners had the #6 and #18 prospects in the Appalachian League. Ramon Morla got a lot of mentions this season while I was doing the daily Mariners Farm Report in my pre-game show. On this list, Morla is surrounded by first round draft picks.
  • Here is a great story – from the grave, Bing Crosby has made a tremendous contribution to baseball history. This New York Times piece is highly enjoyable reading.
  • In the PCL, Round Rock promoted Dave Fendrick to take over as team president, and they hired former Nashville general manager George King as GM.

Busy news day in Mariners Land!


Let’s Play Two!

April 27, 2010

As a result of last night’s rainout, the Rainiers will host the Salt Lake Bees in a doubleheader tonight at 6:00. Each game will be seven innings, and there will be a break of approximately 25 minutes between games. One ticket will get you into both games.

Why seven innings? It is a Minor League Baseball rule that all doubleheader games are seven inninga. This is a direct result of the “player development” side of minor league baseball – the major league teams do not want to over-work their minor league pitching prospects, and risk injury. The shorter games mean less wear-and-tear on the young arms.

The Rainiers will be starting David Pauley and Garrett Olson tonight. I was unable to get the updated Salt Lake starters, but I assume that last night’s scheduled starter Daniel Davidson will pitch one of the games.

Both games can be heard on 850 AM, and streaming via www.tacomarainiers.com.

Yesterday the Rainiers placed outfielder Greg Halman on the 7-day disabled list with a strained oblique. He suffered the injury in the batting cage – it’s mild, the Rainiers training staff think they caught it early and he won’t be out for too long. Brad Nelson was activated from the disabled list.

Some links for you:

  • I’m not one to press the panic button this early, but when Felix Hernandez is losing to Kyle Davies and the Kansas City Royals, you might want to look into improving your offense. It’s unfair to ask the kid to pitch a shutout every time he takes the mound.
  • There is growing opinion that Ken Griffey Jr’s days as a productive hitter are over. Larry LaRue says bench him, and I agree. It’s time.
  • Jason Churchill speculates about upcoming M’s roster moves. I think he is on the right track.
  • In the PCL, it’s looking more like Buster Posey’s days in Fresno are numbered. The Giants are threatening to do the right thing.
  • Half of the league was rained out last night: there were postponements in Omaha, Iowa, Portland, and Tacoma.
  • It (almost) never rains in Vegas, and last night Sacramento took a 6-5 decision as Chris Carter and Jack Cust homered. The Review-Journal wrote about top prospect Michael Taylor.
  • They also played in Reno, where Sky Sox first baseman Brad Eldred hit a first-inning grand slam to lead the Springs to victory. There is speculation about massive roster changes with the Rockies and Sky Sox.
  • It’s always good to see a fellow RG get some publicity. Tim’s take on reaching the majors is pretty much exactly the same as mine.

OK, let’s hope the rain stays away and we can play tonight!


Breakfast With Felix

March 31, 2010

There was a treat for the 20-or-so spectators this morning at the Mariners minor league camp: ace starter Felix Hernandez, pitching for the Mariners Double-A team against the Rainiers Triple-A group.

The Mariners had Felix pitch in the intersquad game rather than against the Texas Rangers in a Cactus League game.

And let’s just say that Felix may have been a bit surprised to see what happened when he fell behind in the count, 3-1, to the first hitter of the game: new Rainiers center fielder Ezequiel Carrera.

So, Felix threw him a fastball down the middle, and Carrera hammered a line drive home run to right field.

Carrera – like Felix a native of Venezuela – could barely contain his smile as rounded the bases. It must have been a thrill for the 22-year-old outfielder who led the Southern League with a .337 batting average last year – especially since he only hit two home runs a season ago, and has hit just 11 in his professional career.

After Carrera’s bomb, Felix settled down. He ended up pitching six innings (86 pitches, 54 strikes) and gave up three hits: a double to Ryan Langerhans, a double to Matt Mangini, and the homer.

Watching Felix Hernandez pitch in a minor league game was just part of what became a rather enjoyable morning for a die-hard Mariners fan. Most of the top prospects in the system played in this intersquad game, and I got to see several for the first time.

Some quick hits:

  • Luke French started for the Triple-A team. He was optioned to Tacoma before the game and may pitch in the Rainiers rotation. French is a finesse lefty who looked sharp, although he did allow an opposite-field home run to top hitting prospect Alex Liddi. French had a 2.98 ERA in 13 Triple-A starts for Toledo last year – numbers that Rainiers manager Daren Brown would love to see him duplicate.
  • Carlos Triunfel looked much better than I expected. The infielder missed nearly all of 2009 with a broken leg, and then came reports that he was overweight and out of shape in the Arizona Fall League. That report is now officially old news: Triunfel dedicated himself to physical conditioning over the winter, and he certainly doesn’t appear to be overweight. Today he showed decent speed legging out an opposite field triple.
  • I got my first look at Dustin Ackley, who is slated to open the season as the Double-A second baseman. Ackley is much slighter than most of his teammates, and he has a wiry frame. Heard a great second-hand quote attributed to Special Assistant John Boles: “You could lock him in a closet for a year, and he’d come out hitting.” However, he went 0-for-2 with a walk under my watch.
  • Garrett Olson relieved French and ended up allowing a mammoth home run to Double-A power prospect Carlos Peguero. The ball landed on a car in the Mariners parking lot (thankfully not my rental as I declined the insurance). While Peguero rounded the bases a Rainiers pitcher told me “this kid’s been dropping bombs all spring.”

I left after Peguero’s homer and ran into Rainiers manager Daren Brown and hitting coach Alonzo Powell, who were hopping in a car to drive to Surprise and assist coaching the big league team. Powell broke into a big smile when he heard about Carrera’s homer.

And thus concludes this year’s spring training trip. I’m off to the airport to catch a flight home on my favorite airline, and gear up for the season opener at Cheney Stadium next Thursday.

Tomorrow – or maybe Friday – I’ll post some thoughts on this year’s team as we move towards the opener. We should get an official opening day roster by Monday, the team will be in town, and we’ll be off-and-running.