ARLINGTON, Texas – The Seattle Mariners gave the Texas Rangers two gifts in the eighth and ninth innings Wednesday. The first came from manager Lloyd McClendon, who inexplicably removed starting pitcher Felix Hernandez in the eighth inning despite the fact he held a 2-0 lead and had only thrown 96 pitches.
That would provide the backdrop for the Rangers’ fourth walk-off win of the season. No manager in his right mind removes Hernandez in that situation. He’d just allowed a leadoff triple to Leonys Martin, but this perennial Cy Young award candidate deserved an opportunity to pitch his way out of his first minor jam of the ballgame.
Hernandez seemed incredulous at the sight of McClendon walking toward the mound. And even Rangers players didn’t think the Mariners manager would give his ace the hook. It was a decision that opened the door for the Rangers to steal a 3-2 win at Globe Life Park. And if no one’s going to score any runs for Yu Darvish, at least he didn’t end up taking the loss.
The second gift came in the form of Mariners shortstop Brad Miller’s high throw to second base following a routine grounder off the bat of pinch-hitter Donnie Murphy with two outs in the ninth inning. With the bases loaded, Seattle closer Fernando Rodney uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Kevin Kouzmanoff to race home from third. Martin then delivered the third walk-off hit of his young career. That set off a wild celebration on a night when Hernandez had made that seem so improbable.
Darvish didn’t take his best stuff to the mound Wednesday, but he did manage to stick around for seven innings. He said he altered his approach after the Mariners were sitting on his four-seam fastball in the first two innings. Darvish started throwing breaking balls early in the count, which cooled off Seattle’s hitters. But on this night, it seemed like two runs would be plenty for Hernandez. He was extremely efficient throughout the game, and with Rangers journeyman Jim Adduci pinch-hitting for Robinson Chirinos, it’s not like McClendon had huge cause for concern. I asked Darvish after the game how surprised he was with McClendon’s decision.
"I was really surprised they took him out," said Darvish. "Especially with the [low] pitch count."
Then Darvish took out the sharp stick.
"If I were the manager of the Mariners, I would’ve taken him out in the fifth inning."
Rangers manager Ron Washington wasn’t going to tip his hand on what was going through his mind when McClendon strolled to the mound.
"I have no comment on what the other manager does," Washington told me.
McClendon basically offered a weak-hitting lineup a life raft. It was a classic case of over-managing. Why take the ball out of your best pitcher’s hand when you don’t have to? The Mariners’ starting rotation is so thin they can’t afford to waste dominant outings from Hernandez.
He had a score to settle with the Rangers because they’re one of the few teams that have had regular success against him. He said as much before the series began. Hernandez is 12-20 for his career against the Rangers.
He preyed on a feeble batting order for seven innings, allowing four hits while throwing first-pitch strikes to 22-of-26 hitters. Hernandez has earned the right to finish this type of outing.
"I was a little tired," Hernandez told reporters. "I made one mistake in the game and that was the pitch to Leonys. It’s always hard coming out when you want to be out there as long as you can."
The Rangers didn’t have to much to finally get Hernandez out of the game. McClendon ended up doing the heavy lifting.
Darvish and his teammates appreciate the benevolence.