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Felix's perfecto a bright spot in Gutierrez's dark year

Felix's perfecto a bright spot in Gutierrez's dark year

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Felix's perfecto a bright spot in Gutierrez's dark year
SEATTLE -- This has been largely a lost year for Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez. A series of health setbacks have limited him to an unlucky 13 games so far in what he'd hoped would be a big comeback season.

But Gutierrez finally found reason to smile Wednesday as he watched close friend Felix Hernandez pitch the first perfect game in franchise history with a 1-0 whitewash of Tampa Bay.

Gutierrez, who is on the 15-day disabled list again due to recurring headaches from a concussion suffered seven weeks ago, remains one of Hernandez's confidantes in the clubhouse and during games.

Felix Hernandez
Jewel in the crown

The two Venezuelans have been teammates the past four years, and it is Hernandez who has frequently sat with Gutierrez and offered consolation -- or teasing, depending on the circumstance -- as Gutierrez has dealt with a torn pectoral muscle and now a concussion that have sidelined him most of the year.

But that support works both ways. It was Gutierrez who finally cajoled Hernandez into breaking his normal pregame routine on Father's Day (after numerous players and club officials failed) and instead go out on the field just in time to see a plane towing a banner with well-wishes from his wife and two kids.

It is Gutierrez who frequently chats with Hernandez through the course of ballgames when the ace comes to the dugout, proffering advice or encouragement.

But not Wednesday, not that time.

"Nobody was talking to me," Hernandez said after becoming the 23rd pitcher in baseball history to fire a flawless game. "Not even Guti. He always talks to me when I'm pitching. I was just talking to [catcher John] Jaso. Nobody else was even close to me."

Gutierrez, a 2010 Gold Glove Award winner, said he had a feeling from the start on Wednesday that something special was happening.

"Normally I come in here between innings and grab a bottle of water or whatever," he said in the happy clubhouse. "And I didn't do that this game. I just sat in one spot and didn't move. I was just watching the game, concentrating on what [Hernandez] was doing and just thinking that he was going to do it. ... And he did it."

Gutierrez didn't sit silently when Hernandez was trying to wrap up the ninth inning against the Rays, however.

"At that point, I was praying with Guti in the dugout," said Jesus Montero, the 22-year-old Venezuelan designated hitter who drove in the game's only run. "We were so nervous, it was unbelievable."

Gutierrez, 29, said it was the first perfect game he's ever experienced.

"I know I didn't play, but it was the same feeling," he said. "I don't know if [Hernandez] was nervous, but I was. I was sitting on the bench shaking. He's one of my friends and he deserves the best. Everybody knows that every time he goes out there he competes to win, and he deserves this."

As for Gutierrez's own premonition?

"I don't know. I just felt like he was about to do something special, and he did," said Gutierrez. "It was a weird feeling. When you feel something and it happens, you don't know what to think. But it's great that he did it. The first perfect game in Mariners history ... that's huge."

It would be big for the Mariners to get Gutierrez back healthy at some point as well. He was a major part of manager Eric Wedge's plans this year after coming to Spring Training with renewed vigor and about 20 pounds of regained muscle after missing much of 2011 and not being able to work out the entire previous year due to a digestive issue.

But Gutierrez felt the pectoral muscle tear while making a throw early in camp, then got the concussion when he was hit in the head on a pickoff throw to first by Boston's Franklin Morales just 13 games after he'd finally come back in June.

Originally placed on a seven-day concussion disabled list, Gutierrez has had his return delayed repeatedly by headaches that hadn't subsided until just the past few days, when he had a change in medication.

"I'm doing better," said Gutierrez. "I think I'm pretty close. I'm going to come here [Thursday] and practice. I know it's a day off, but I'm going to come in by myself. I need to get ready. Friday, I'll go outside with the team and we'll talk from there."

If Gutierrez can get cleared to play, he'll start a Minor League rehab stint with a maximum of 20 days to get ready for a return to the Mariners. Gutierrez's frustration is obvious as he looks at the season schedule tacked up in his locker.

"It's been a pretty tough time right now and really, the whole year," he said. "But since I changed my medication, it seems to finally be better. There's still a little time. I'm going to come back and still get something done this season."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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