Hernandez deserves better but loses

Hernandez deserves better but loses

ARLINGTON -- Anytime you hold the highest-scoring team in the Major Leagues to one run, especially at the home team's hitter-friendly ballpark, you can pretty much count on winning the game.

Unless you are Felix Hernandez and it was Wednesday afternoon at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

The Mariners' ace right-hander pitched one of his best games of the season but emerged with his ninth loss instead of his 10th win, as Seattle's six-game road trip ended with a 1-0 loss in front of 12,882.

Even so, Hernandez seemed satisfied with being part of a rare pitching duel deep in the heart of Texas.

"Great game," he said. "I would never expect a 1-0 game here, not in this ballpark."

The run Felix surrendered in the first inning was enough for three Texas pitchers.

Right-handed starter Dustin Nippert surrendered seven hits over seven scoreless innings and retired all six batters he faced with the tying run in scoring position. Reliever Warner Madrigal pitched around Raul Ibanez's two-out double in the eighth inning, and right-hander Frank Francisco retired Seattle in 1-2-3 fashion in the ninth -- but not before shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt sent left fielder Marlon Byrd to the wall for the second out of the inning.

It was close to being a tie game but not quite.

"The wind was a little bit of a factor," manager Jim Riggleman said. "I think a lot of nights that ball is out of here. The wind, you don't know what it's going to do here. I didn't think he hit it like he hit the one the night before, but when I saw Byrd go back there getting ready to jump, I was hoping it would do what [Jose] Lopez's ball did, just be high enough to bounce off the wall, and we'd have another chance."

But Byrd made a leaping catch, and pinch-hitter Jeff Clement fouled out to end only the third 1-0 game the Rangers have won at home in the past 18 years.

Hernandez lost a 1-0 decision for just the second time in his Major League career, and it occurred in his 100th start.

"I don't know that he's had a 1-0 game, but he's had some real good games that he didn't win," Riggleman said. "He's a much better pitcher than 9-9."

Felix has had 16 quality starts this season, but either lost or received a no-decision in nine of them. He went into his 27th start of the season with the fourth-lowest run support (3.8 runs) per outing.

"All I can do is try to pitch a good game and keep my team in the game," he said.

Asked if it was frustrating not to have won more of his quality starts, he said, "It's only frustrating when the other team scores 11 runs against you."

In Felix's case, that is about as rare as a 1-0 game in Arlington.

Mariners pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre praised both starting pitchers, saying it was a tough game for either one of them to lose.

"Felix has been pretty good most of the season, but that was as good as I have seen him pitching out of jams," Stottlemyre said. "He got in trouble and got out of them by throwing some really good pitches."

The Rangers, who lead the big leagues in runs scored with 769, were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

The only run of the series finale scored on a sacrifice fly. Rangers shortstop Michael Young reached on a one-out single and scooted to third when Josh Hamilton doubled to right-center. Milton Bradley hit a fly ball to left field, deep enough to score Young.

Seattle put two runners on base in the in the fourth inning, when hot-hitting Adrian Beltre and Raul Ibanez delivered back-to-back singles with one out, only to have Lopez ground out and Bryan LaHair fly out.

Betancourt and right fielder Ichiro Suzuki singled two outs apart in the fifth inning, but Nippert induced Jeremy Reed to bounce into a forceout at second to maintain the lead.

And that's the way it remained, as the Rangers clinched the season series against their AL West colleagues and notched their fifth 1-0 victory over Seattle since 1978 -- the third time it has happened in Arlington and the first at the Rangers' 14-year-old facility.

The outcome put a damper on the Major League starting debuts for catcher Rob Johnson and second baseman Luis Valbuena.

Both went hitless but played flawless defense.

Johnson caught Hernandez for the first time in his career and came away with a lasting memory.

"Catching Felix is the thing I will remember most about my first start [in the Majors]," he said.

"He did a great job," Hernandez said. "He's a smart catcher. He's good. He did everything well. We were on the same page all day on which pitch to call. Yeah, he's a very good catcher. He was nervous before the game, but he did a great job."

Johnson, who had spent last September with the Mariners but never started a game, said he never had caught anyone quite like Felix.

"He was on with all four of his pitches," the rookie receiver said. "You need to be on top of your game to catch him. All of his pitches move quite a bit, and his breaking ball is really sharp."

Riggleman dished out some praise for the catcher ranked at the top of the organizational depth chart on defense.

"He did what we heard he could do," the manager said. "He's a good receiver back there. He handled a tough guy like Felix and made it look easy."

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