OAKLAND -- The emotional outbursts that usually did Felix Hernandez more harm than good are becoming less frequent these days. Tough breaks don't seem to bother him nearly as much, and his maturity is being rewarded. The little popup that fell into left field, putting runners on first and second bases with none out in the eighth inning Wednesday night, probably would have rattled Hernandez a year ago. But the Mariners' right-hander took a couple of deep breaths, pitched his way out of trouble -- thanks to his own defensive play -- and finished off a 4-2 victory over the Athletics in front of 21,126 at McAfee Coliseum. For the first time this season, and the fourth time in his Major League career, Hernandez pitched a complete game. He held the Athletics to eight hits, and only one of the two runs he surrendered was earned. And as most high-quality, top-of-the-rotation pitchers do, Hernandez made sure the four runs Seattle scored in the first two innings off Athletics starter Joe Blanton were insurmountable.
"He has handled everything well and kept himself under control," manager John McLaren said. "He is a fierce competitor and really wants [a complete game]. You want to see guys who want to close out games, and he has that in him." Hernandez's ability to keep his cool in the eighth inning, with Seattle holding a three-run lead, was a huge factor in the outcome. The big escape started when he induced Mark Ellis to bounce into a double play that Hernandez started. He then surrendered a run-scoring single on the first pitch to first baseman Daric Barton, fell behind in the count 3-0 to Mike Sweeney, but came back for a called third-strike to end the inning. Once he extricated himself from that inning, still leading by two runs, Hernandez said he was confident that the ninth inning would go smoothly, and it did. He needed only seven pitches to retire the side in order and walk off the field shaking hands on enemy turf. "He pitched his butt off," Barton said. "You have to give him credit. He's one of the better pitchers in the game." The maturity process has been slow, at times, but Hernandez finally seems to have turned the corner in that department. "I think he has grown up a lot the past year," said catcher Kenji Johjima through his interpreter. "He still gets emotional, but that's his pitching style and I think that's good. But when you get too emotional, you start to lose yourself and you cannot control yourself. I want him to go beyond that." That being said, Johjima added, "When I was 20, I was the same way." The emotions Hernandez showed against the Athletics were all positive. He slapped his bare hand into his glove after third baseman Adrian Beltre made a hit-saving grab of a line drive in the third inning, and pounded the ground with his bare hand after the eighth-inning DP had been turned. It wasn't as easy as it looked. Hernandez snared the one-hop shot off Ellis' bat, turned to throw to second base, only to see second-base umpire Joe West in the way. Hernandez started to throw the ball, stopped, waited for West to take one more step, threw a strike to shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt at second for the first out, and the throw to first was in plenty of time for the DP. It was the second time in the game that Hernandez had a ball hit back at him. The first one occurred in the second inning with a much different result. Athletics catcher Kurt Suzuki hit a ball up the middle and Hernandez stuck out his bare right hand, deflecting it towards Betancourt, who charged the ball, picked it up bare handed and made a wild throw to first base for an error. McLaren and head trainer Rick Griffin were among those visiting the mound to make sure Hernandez was OK. "It hit the meat part of his hand," McLaren said. "Obviously, we don't like to see him put his bare hand out there, and we'll talk to him again about it." Hernandez took a couple of practice throws and proceeded to handle the Athletics, retiring 13 of the 14 batters he faced between the second and seventh innings. He threw 74 pitches over the first six innings. "He had all four pitches working -- low fastball at 97-98 [mph], good slider, good curveball, good change," Athletics manager Bob Geren said. "That was one of the best-pitched games we've seen. It's difficult to really pitch much better than he did." The Mariners (8-8) scored three runs in the first inning, one in the second, and left it up to Hernandez to keep the Athletics under control. Ichiro Suzuki started the game with a single into left field, advanced to second on a passed ball and to third on a well-executed grounder to first base by Jose Lopez. Raul Ibanez put the Mariners ahead with a single to right field, scooted to third on Beltre's double to right-center and both runners scored when Jose Vidro doubled to center, just under the glove of center fielder Ryan Sweeney, who attempted to make a diving catch. "We're getting our leadoff hitter, whoever it is, on base and that's a real positive sign," said McLaren of the four times -- first, second, third and eighth innings -- that Seattle put its leadoff hitter on base. "We're swinging at better pitches, and I like the way our lineup is right now." The Mariners finished with 12 hits, seven of them from the middle of the lineup -- three by Ibanez and two apiece by Beltre and Vidro.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.