Griffey, Hernandez lift Mariners over A's

September 30, 2009

Everyone around Felix Hernandez keeps speculating and evaluating the American League Cy Young Award race.

That's fine by the 23-year-old Seattle ace. He'll leave the analysis to everyone else.

"The thing is I don't think about that right now. I just want to end my season healthy and if it happens it happens," Hernandez said.

Hernandez added another strong effort to his Cy Young Award resume, backed by Ken Griffey Jr.'s 628th career homer in the Mariners' 6-4 win over the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday night.

In what might be his final homestand, Griffey jolted the meager crowd that showed up on a chilly night with a three-run homer off Oakland starter Trevor Cahill in the fifth inning.

Cahill became the 406th different pitcher to give up a long ball to Griffey in his storied career. Cahill (10-13) was just 13 months old when Griffey smacked his first career homer off Eric King on April 10, 1989.

Griffey's homer gave Seattle a 5-1 lead and was more than enough run support for Hernandez, who bolstered the best season of his young career on a night he didn't have his best stuff. But he pitched into the eighth and helped Seattle win its 81st game, a season removed from losing 101 games.

"It means a lot. ... Winning 81 games is pretty good for this team," Hernandez said. "It's way different. In the clubhouse and on the field it feels different. Last year it was kind of quiet. This year we just have fun."

Hernandez (18-5) struggled with his control, walking four and hitting two batters, but lasted 7 2-3 innings and improved to 7-1 since Aug. 1. He gave up seven hits, struck out four and threw a season-high 120 pitches in his next-to-last start of 2009.

He'll get one more chance to impress Cy Young voters in Sunday's season finale against Texas. But his numbers the final six weeks of the season are impressive. Since Aug. 28, Hernandez is 6-0 with a 1.68 ERA and 38 strikeouts. He's pitched at least seven innings in seven consecutive starts and has just two losses since May 19.

"He just never gives up, he battles, and he seems to be able to manage any kind of trouble he gets into. It's a credit to him. ... You're talking about a 23-year-old kid that has matured so much this year," Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu said.

For wins, Hernandez trails only CC Sabathia, who has 19, and his 2.48 ERA is second to Kansas City's Zack Greinke (2.06).

Oakland missed its opportunity to capitalize on Hernandez's early struggles, failing to score with runners at first and second and no outs in the second, and with runners on second and third and two outs in the third.

Mark Ellis had an RBI single in the fourth, but the A's left runners at second and third in that inning as well.

Mark Lowe struck out Cliff Pennington to end the eighth after Hernandez loaded the bases with two outs. Seattle closer David Aardsma gave up a two-run single to Kurt Suzuki in the ninth, before getting the final two outs.

The 21-year-old Cahill saw his four-game winning streak snapped. He matched Hernandez early but fell apart in the fifth. Josh Wilson started the inning with a double and scored on Franklin Gutierrez's sacrifice fly to deep center field for a 2-1 lead.

Jose Lopez then followed with a single, and after the A's infield met at the mound, Griffey turned on Cahill's first pitch for his 17th homer of the season.

"I overthrew a little bit knowing it was my last start, trying to leave it all out there," Cahill said. "It's not really my game trying to blow people away."

Griffey indicated earlier this month he'd be open to playing in 2010 for Seattle if the situation worked for both sides, but has stayed silent recently.

"We actually went fishing yesterday, and he never brought it up," Wakamatsu said before Tuesday's game. "That's Junior's decision, that's (GM) Jack (Zduriencik's) decision. All I can speak of is my experience with him this year, and it's been an honor to have a player of that caliber."

The loss means Oakland will finish last in the AL West for the first time since 1998.


Seattle activated 1B Russell Branyan from the 15-day disabled list before Tuesday's game. Branyan has been out since Aug. 29 with a herniated disk in his back. Whether he plays before the end of the season remains in question. ... Seattle SS Jack Wilson saw a doctor on Tuesday night to get another opinion on his bruised right heel. Wakamatsu did not believe Wilson would play again this season.