Ichiro, Felix provide thrills in loss to Jays

Ichiro, Felix provide thrills in loss to Jays

TORONTO -- It was a heartwarming scene any sports fan would appreciate.

In the wake of a disappointing 1-0 loss to the Blue Jays on Thursday, Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez stood from his chair in the visitors' locker room and marched toward long-time teammate Ichiro Suzuki.

Wrapped in pounds of ice, Hernandez extended his right arm in front of a sitting Ichiro. The 36-year-old right fielder took a quick glance to see who the open palm belonged to, and wasting no time, shook the hand with authority.

As the two shared a smile, Hernandez broke from the handshake and patted Ichiro on the back. And with one word sent the Japanese native into a state of jubilance.

"Congratulations," said Hernandez, exiting the room leaving Ichiro with a cheek-to-cheek smile.

Despite losing a contest that saw Ichiro reach the 200-hit plateau for the 10th consecutive season, and Hernandez wield a two-hit complete game, the two superstars showed genuine sportsmanship. Win or lose -- the Mariners remain a family.

Amidst the frustrations that come with 94 losses, second baseman Chone Figgins -- who joined the team this offseason after experiencing six playoff runs with the Angels -- said it is Hernandez's and Ichiro's unique approach to the game that allows them to continuously stay positive.

"Their work ethic and their mindset," said Figgins. "You have to be strong mentally to play this game. You have to be able to control what you can control on the field, and those guys do it with the best of them.

"They've obviously been through a lot here and to be able to compete at that high level every time they go on the field, or every time [Hernandez] pitches is amazing to see. You can't always control everything, but you can control what you do on the field. Once they get the opportunity, they are able to put their mind in a position to help themselves succeed."

After a shaky first, which included a Jose Bautista solo home run -- his Major League-leading 50th of the season, making him the 26th player in Major League history to reach that mark and the first since 2007 -- and a pair of walks to Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells, Hernandez returned to looking like an American League Cy Young candidate. He retired 13 straight Blue Jays, before Travis Snider singled in the sixth.

As has been the case all season, the young right-hander was unable to garner any run support. In spite of allowing just two hits for his sixth complete game of the season, Hernandez was handed the loss, putting his record at 12-12. In Felix's 12 losses this season, the Mariners have produced only seven runs. Entering the game Hernandez ranked third lowest in run support in the AL.

"Yeah, I've done a lot," a calm Hernandez said of his season as a whole. "Just trying to help the team to win [that's it]."

The Mariners' offense had their best scoring chance in the fifth. Following Josh Wilson being hit by a pitch, Ichiro singled -- hit No. 200 on the year -- to put runners on first and second with one out. Figgins flied out to left, while Jose Lopez grounded into a force at third to ice the rally. The Mariners also stranded two runners with one out in the eighth. Reliever Scott Downs retired pinch-hitter Franklin Gutierrez and Adam Moore.

"Offensively we didn't get a whole lot going," interim manager Daren Brown said. "I think for the third game in a row here we [matched] or out hit them. We just didn't do a whole lot with guys on base."

Rookie Matt Mangini, batting seventh as the designated hitter, provided another bright spot for the Mariners, recording his first Major League hit off Jays closer Kevin Gregg in the ninth.

Coming into Thursday with 198 hits, Ichiro recorded two knocks off Blue Jays starter Shawn Hill -- a line drive double in the third and a single up the middle in the fifth -- to become the first player in Major League history to have produced 10 straight 200-hit seasons. He also matched Pete Rose as the only other player to have amassed 10 seasons of 200 hits over the course of a career.

The Mariners and the fans at Rogers Centre provided Ichiro with a standing ovation.

"This year has been tough because of the season," Ichiro said. "It kind of reminds you about what happened in 2008 [Mariners lost 101 games] and all the stories we had that became a drama. Just having that feeling of not wanting to go back to it, because I don't want to affect my play.

"But today after I accomplished 200 hits, when I looked to the dugout everyone was celebrating, everyone was pretty happy. They were showing that [celebratory] feeling. That's when I finally felt like I could express my feelings in a good way, where I could say I'm happy for what I've achieved."

In what has been a difficult season for the Mariners, Hernandez and Ichiro continue to shine. And even when the club struggles to find wins, the Mariners continue to demonstrate what being a team is all about -- supporting one another through the ups and downs.

James Hall is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.