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Hernandez steals spotlight

Hernandez steals spotlight

BOSTON -- A right-hander making his first career start at Fenway Park was the star of the show Wednesday night at a packed Fenway Park.

No surprise there.

But Felix Hernandez was the king of the hill, not the Red Sox's $103 million pitcher.

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With all of Red Sox Nation -- and a large chunk of Japan -- watching, the Mariners right-hander became the star attraction in a game billed as a hometown party involving Boston's high-stakes investment, Daisuke Matsuzaka, against fellow countryman Ichiro Suzuki.

Thanks to three stellar defensive plays by second baseman Jose Lopez and one by left fielder Raul Ibanez, Hernandez took a no-hitter into the eighth inning en route to a 3-0 victory over the Red Sox and the much-heralded Dice-K before a sellout crowd of 36,630 -- the second-largest crowd in modern Fenway history.

"That was fun," a smiling Hernandez said after his one-hit, complete-game masterpiece.

The just-turned 21-year-old lost his no-hit bid when J.D. Drew led off the eighth inning with a hard ground ball up the middle. The ball eluded Felix and then scooted past the diving Lopez, rolling into center field.

"I asked Jose after the inning, 'Why didn't you catch that, bro?'" Hernandez said. "I was just kidding."

Catcher Kenji Johjima went to the mound and told his batterymate to "shake it off and go after the next hitter."

Felix retired the final six Red Sox batters for his third career complete game and extended his scoreless streak to 17 innings this season. Hernandez shut out the Athletics over eight innings in his first start of the season, which came on Opening Day in Seattle.

As an encore, Hernandez came close to becoming the third pitcher in franchise history to pitch a no-hitter. Randy Johnson was the first, no-hitting the Tigers on June 2, 1990, and Chris Bosio no-hit the Red Sox on April 22, 1993, also at the Kingdome.

Hernandez settled with the eighth nine-inning one-hitter in club history. The most recent was Johnson's near no-no against the Twins on July 16, 1998.

So how disappointed was Hernandez not to get the no-hitter?

"Not at all," he said. "I'm happy that the team got a win."

The Mariners needed a win after having all four games scheduled in Cleveland snowed out, followed by an ugly 14-3 loss to the Red Sox in this series opener.

Mariners one-hitters
There have been nine one-hitters in Seattle Mariners history.
Pitcher
Date
Opponent
Jim Beattie9/27/1983vs. Royals
Mike Trujillo9/20/1986vs. Royals
Mark Langston9/24/1988vs. Rangers
Brian Holman4/20/1990vs. A's
Randy Johnson8/14/1991vs. A's
Randy Johnson5/16/1993vs. A's
Randy Johnson7/16/1998vs. Twins
Gil Meche6/13/2000vs. Royals*
Felix Hernandez4/11/2007at Red Sox
*Five innings

"He told me he was going to be good," manager Mike Hargrove said. "He didn't tell me how good."

He was so good that after the fourth inning, Hargrove thought Hernandez had no-hit stuff.

The only two Boston baserunners in the first four innings came on walks, the first with two outs in the third and the other a four-pitch leadoff walk in the fourth.

But none of the runners reached second base, nor did Drew after spoiling the no-no.

"The Red Sox have an awfully good offensive ballclub," Hargrove said. "The hitters they have are not chopped liver, and to do what he did tonight against that lineup speaks a lot for his physical ability on one hand but his mental ability on the other. I don't mean he's psychic, but he maintained his focus.

"Even after giving up that hit, he came back and threw strikes. You don't see many 31-year-old pitchers to that, much less 21."

The no-no lasted as long as it did because of the defensive gems.

Lopez made an over-the-shoulder catch in shallow center field to rob Kevin Youkilis of a hit in the first inning, stole a single from Drew with a backhanded stab leading off the fifth inning and followed that up with a nice play behind second base to nail Mike Lowell at first for the second out of the inning.

"I've been coming to the park early every day working on my fielding," Lopez said. "And with Felix throwing a no-hitter, I tried to catch every ball."

The seventh inning started with Youkilis ripping a line drive to Ibanez, who dove to his right and snagged the ball for the first out. The dangerous David Ortiz then lifted a routine fly to Ibanez and Felix buzzed a late-breaking pitch for a called third strike past Manny Ramirez.

"He's got great stuff," Youkilis said. "He's got everything people say when they talk about him. He was unbelievable tonight. For him, if he just throws strikes, he's going to dominate."

The Mariners took a 1-0 lead off Dice-K in the second inning. Jose Guillen drilled a one-out single to left field, scampered to third on Johjima's double to left and scored on a medium deepth fly ball to Ramirez by shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt.

"Our guys were really ready for this game," Hargrove said. "They came to play today after what we've gone through -- four days in Cleveland and I can't even call it a game yesterday. To come back with that sort of attitude and energy says a lot about these guys."

As the fans settled in to watch a classic pitching duel between Hernandez and Matsuzaka, the Mariners scored a pair of two-out runs in the fifth inning. Adrian Beltre drove in the first one with a double and scored on Jose Vidro's single to center.

After that, the game became the Felix Watch.

"What we're seeing is just the tip of the iceberg," Hargrove said. "I think this guy is ultra-special and I sure am glad he's on our side."

When it was suggested he should start his ace with eight days' rest again, the manager quipped, "I'd start him every day if I could."

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

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