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Matthew Leach

Few pitchers can do what Felix does at his best

Leach: Few pitchers can do what Felix does at his best

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There are lots of reasons why there have been lots of no-hitters recently, but there's one big reason why the fans at Safeco Field saw history on Wednesday, and he goes by the sobriquet "King Felix."

2012: a year for no-nos
Pitcher Team Opponent Date
*Felix Hernandez Mariners Rays 08/15
*Matt Cain Giants Astros 6/13
# Six pitchers Mariners Dodgers 6/8
Johan Santana Mets Cardinals 6/1
Jered Weaver Angels Twins 5/2
*Philip Humber White Sox Mariners 4/21
*- Perfect game
#- Kevin Millwood, Charlie Furbush, Stephen Pryor, Lucas Luetge, Brandon League, Tom Wilhelmsen
And there are some good reasons for the outbreak. Conditions in 2012 are conducive to a good pitcher throwing a no-no.

When a pitcher throws a perfect game and a large percentage of the reaction is some variation of "What took him so long?" it's an indication of two things. One, we're living in a new era of baseball. Two, that pitcher is really, really good.

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Both definitely apply here. When Hernandez threw the 23rd perfecto in Major League history on Wednesday afternoon, he became the third pitcher to achieve perfection this season, and he threw the sixth no-hitter of 2012. It's certainly a cluster, if not all the way to an epidemic.

Strikeouts are up, even though home runs remain high and run-scoring in general is relatively high. Teams are smarter about evaluating defense, which means better players on the field. Many of the no-nos, including Hernandez's, have taken place at pitcher-friendly ballparks. Drug testing certainly may be a factor. Random statistical noise is almost assuredly a factor.

But then there's that other big one: the pitchers. Though some of the names on the list are prosaic, most of the men who have pulled off the feat in recent years are stars. It's guys like Hernandez, Jered Weaver, Justin Verlander, Matt Cain, Johan Santana and Roy Halladay.

Felix Hernandez
Jewel in the crown

You don't have to have elite command and stuff to throw a no-hitter, but it sure helps. Hernandez has both in spades.

It's a short list of pitchers who can do what Hernandez can do at his best. His stuff across multiple pitches may be the equal of any starter in the game. He can come in on the hands with a fastball, drop a slider on the outside corner and freeze a hitter with a changeup on the inside black -- all in the same plate appearance.

In the game's final at-bat, he threw four different pitches to Sean Rodriguez at five velocities. That included a called strike on an 83-mph curveball away, a swinging strike at a slider away and the final, freezing, unfair split-finger fastball inside. The last pitch, that wicked splitter, dove down and in on Rodriguez at 92 mph.

Rodriguez had no chance, but that just made him like everyone else wearing a Rays uniform.

Hernandez's perfecto missed what seems to be the calling card of nearly every no-hitter, the signature spectacular play, because no such play was needed. Gregor Blanco saved Cain's perfect game with a magnificent diving catch. Mike Baxter sacrificed a huge chunk of his season when he injured himself making a catch to save Santana's no-no.

Eric Thames made a nice play on Sam Fuld's leadoff fly ball in the first, but the ball wasn't that dangerous. And nobody else even came close. Hernandez struck out 12, getting 26 swinging strikes, and no ball was hit to an outfielder after the fourth inning.

It was sheer dominance by a dominant pitcher.

So, sure, Hernandez was helped by pitching at Safeco Field. Sure, a strikeout-happy and low-scoring Rays team made the task a little less daunting. Sure, Hernandez has some excellent defenders behind him.

Plenty of pitchers get to enjoy advantages like that every night, though. Hernandez took advantage, in spectacular style. Because he's Felix Hernandez.

Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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