Felix tops Rangers to bolster Cy Young case

Felix tops Rangers to bolster Cy Young case

ARLINGTON -- On a night two of his primary competitors for the American League Cy Young Award pitched their respective teams into the playoffs, Mariners right-hander Felix Hernandez went about his business against another postseason-bound club.

In what might have been his final start of the season, the Mariners ace held the AL West champion Rangers to five hits and one run over eight innings in Seattle's 3-1 victory before 26,043 at Rangers Ballpark on Tuesday.

The Rangers lineup did not include regulars Michael Young, Vladimir Guerrero, Elvis Andrus or Ian Kinsler -- all given the night off so they could watch Hernandez notch his 13th win of the season and lower his league-leading ERA to 2.27.

Not that Hernandez noticed who he was facing.

"I never look at the other team's lineup [before the game]," he said. "Never."

What he does is pitch his game, and like so many other games this season, Hernandez was tough to score against, and the two-run homer Justin Smoak smacked in the fourth inning proved decisive -- a 413-foot blast to straightaway center.

It marked the third time this season that Smoak hit home runs in back-to-back games, most recently on July 16-17 against the Angels. And it was also the second straight night Smoak hit the deciding homer against his former club.

The Rangers threatened in the sixth inning, putting runners on first and second with one out, but a crisp 4-6-3 double play yanked Hernandez out of trouble, and he cruised through the seventh and eighth innings before giving the final three outs to right-handed reliever Brandon League.

Meanwhile, Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia and Rays lefty David Price tossed playoff-clinching wins for their respective clubs, which could make the AL Cy Young Award voting even more interesting than before Tuesday night's games.

For the record, Hernandez has:

• Allowed one earned run or fewer in nine of his last 10 starts.

• Made 30 quality starts this season, the most since Randy Johnson in 2002.

• Posted a 1.45 ERA since the All-Star break.

• And pitched 209 scoreless innings.

Two of his past three wins have been against the Rangers, convincing Texas manager Ron Washington that Hernandez is the best pitcher in the AL.

"I would say so," Washington said. "He has electric stuff. He sinks it, runs it, spins it and changes it. When he smells the finish line he can get there."

The regular season finish line occurs on Sunday afternoon at Safeco Field against the Athletics, and if Hernandez has anything to say about it, he'll be on the mound one more time in 2010.

"Definitely," he said. "I will start one more game -- my last game of the season. Yeah. Oh, yeah. Five days is Sunday, and I have to finish my season."

That being said, his bosses might be leaning toward shutting Hernandez down and thanking him for a job well done.

"He pitched tonight and did a nice job," interim manager Daren Brown said. "It is something we will look at [as an organization], not me sitting here 20 minutes after the game making a decision."

Hernandez has pitched a career-high 249 2/3 innings, and his health is more important than anything right now.

"I keep reiterating that he's 24 years old and has a career high in innings pitched," Brown added. "He pitched eight innings tonight and threw about 110 pitches. He's done his job."

As for Sunday: "It is something for the organization to decide what's best for him and what's best for the Seattle Mariners. It's something we'll sit down and discuss."

Less important are the Cy Young Award and the team's won-loss record.

The Mariners, who have won three straight, now need to win just two of their remaining five games to avoid a 100-loss season.

"The way I feel about it, he's important for us to win ballgames," Brown said, "not to keep us from losing ballgames."

With Hernandez on the mound on Tuesday night, the Mariners played for one run right off the bat -- and got it.

Ichiro Suzuki dumped a leadoff single into left field -- his 206th hit of the season -- and went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Chone Figgins.

Jose Lopez lofted a popup into shallow left field that landed between third baseman Jorge Cantu, who was running out, and left fielder David Murphy, who was charging in.

However, Ichiro did not get a good read on the ball and had to hold up at third while Lopez hustled into second with a double. No harm, no foul, and Ichiro scored on a sacrifice fly to right by Franklin Gutierrez.

The Rangers scored their only run in the third inning, when, with two outs and runners on first and second, Murphy hit a single to center field on a 3-0 pitch.

The Rangers also threatened in the first inning, getting a runner to third base before Hernandez struck out Nelson Cruz for the third out.

Hernandez held Cruz to a single in four at-bats.

"[Cruz] is a great hitter and I have to be careful," Hernandez said. "He hit a home run off me here and one more in Seattle. I said, 'That's not going to happen again.' So I made good pitches against him."

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.