It was billed as “The Battle in Seattle,” there were even fans at Safeco last night wearing t-shirts featuring the mug shots of the game’s starting pitchers. It was the 19-year-old phenom, “King” Felix Hernandez, against the 41-year-old former Mariners’ ace and sure-thing Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, and it lived up to the hype.
The rookie and the veteran exchanged hitless frames through two, with Hernandez throwing 97 mile per hour fastballs and sharp curves and Johnson locating both his slider and 95 heaters.
Hernandez began the third by striking out his opponent’s personal catcher, John Flaherty, on a wicked curve that came in just below the waste on the outside corner and dropped into the dirt. King Felix then threw a fastball away to Robinson Cano and came back with a change-up over the plate. Hernandez is as good as advertised, but his change-up is the weakest of his three pitches. This one hung up in the zone and Cano deposited it in the right field seats, just beyond the reach of Ichiro Suzuki to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead (note the white t-shirt in the latter photo).
After Johnson pitched another hitless frame (aided by a fantastic play at third base by Alex Rodriguez in which he made a backhanded stab of a sharp bouncer up the line by Suzuki and pivoted on the foul line to make a Jeter-like jump throw to nail the speedy Ichiro by a half step), Gary Sheffield, back from his one-day suspension, led off the fourth by blasting a Hernandez heater over the wall in left to make it 2-0 Yanks.
As it turned out, that would be the end of the scoring in this game, but Johnson and Hernandez continued to deal, blowing away hitters with heat and confounding them with breaking pitches, pitching quickly, all the while backed up by some terrific defense (the Mariners turned three double plays and Alex Rodriguez literally filled an entire highlight reel with his play at third base).
Likely invigorated by being back in Seattle and overshadowed by a young punk less than half his age, Randy Johnson didn’t allow a hit through five innings. Given the electricity of the game and the sharpness of his defense, it seemed Johnson had a very real chance of completing his third career no-hitter, but Yuniesky Betancourt lead off the sixth with a double over Matt Lawton’s head in left. Betancourt then moved to third on a grounder to shortstop by Suzuki, but Johnson recovered to strikeout Jamal Strong (starting in center for the left-handed Jeremy Reed) and, after Tino Martinez dropped a foul pop up by Raul Ibanez, Alex Rodriguez turned in yet another fine play to strand Betancourt at third.
The Mariners got a man to third again in the seventh. After Johnson struckout Sexson to start the inning, Rodriguez made a wicked backhanded stab of a hot shot by Adrian Beltre, but despite having plenty of time to make his throw, drew Tino Martinez off the bag for what was generously ruled the second Mariner hit of the game. Beltre then moved to second on a Jose Lopez single and to third on a Mike Morse fly to center. Now at 111 pitches and still nursing a 2-0 lead, Johnson reared back and fired a series of mid-90s fastballs to Yorvit Torrealba: 94 high, 94 a tad lower called strike, 95 barely inside, 95 same spot for a called strike. After the second called strike, Torrealba and home plate ump Ron Kulpa took a moment to jaw at each other. Johnson then fired his 116th pitch of the game. Torreabla grounded it to Derek Jeter, who flipped to Robinson Cano at second, just barely forcing out Lopez to end the inning and Johnson’s night.