ST. PETERSBURG -- Felix Hernandez has never won six straight decisions. Nor has he ever won any game at all at Tropicana Field. Both those items remain on The King's bucket list after the Mariners' 5-0 victory over the Rays on Sunday.
But while Hernandez didn't get the win in a game Seattle finally grabbed with a five-run outburst in the ninth, he did strike out a career-high 15 batters in a dominant four-hit performance over seven innings against the Rays, the same team he fired his perfect game against in 2012. Hernandez struck out the side three times.
"I think he was even better than the perfect-game stuff," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "Better today than when he threw the perfect game in Seattle. His changeup, it was a fastball until the last second, and then it became a changeup. He was really good. His command was outstanding."
Indeed, Hernandez acknowledged he's on top of his game; even with the no-decision, he continued the best start of his 10-year career at 8-1 with 2.39 ERA in 14 starts.
What was working Sunday?
"Everything," Hernandez said. "Everything. I was throwing a lot of strikes. My changeup was unbelievable and the slider was really good, too. I was getting ahead early and that was it. It's fun when you've got all that stuff. It's fun to go out there and just throw every pitch and know it's going to be for strikes."
Hernandez's best previous record through 14 starts was 7-3 in 2009, the year he went on to a career-best 19-5 record. The four-time All-Star is ahead of that pace at 8-1 and is pitching with renewed vigor -- and a couple extra miles per hour on his fastball -- for a team that is 33-29 and pushing to make a mark in the American League West.
Hernandez became the fourth Mariners pitcher to strike out 15 in a game, which Randy Johnson did 17 times, Mark Langston did twice and Mike Moore did once. Hernandez's previous best was 13 strikeouts, which he'd done three times.
Manager Lloyd McClendon replaced Hernandez after he threw 100 pitches in seven innings, turning a scoreless game over to his bullpen.
Hernandez recorded his 1,800th career strikeout with his sixth whiff of the day when he struck out the side in the third, and he never slowed down, reaching his 15th strikeout in the seventh when he stranded Ben Zobrist at third with three more K's after the second baseman singled, stole second and moved up again on a wild pitch.
McClendon felt the effort to strand Zobrist left Hernandez spent, so he replaced him with Yoervis Medina the following inning. Thus Medina wound up getting the victory when Seattle rallied in the top of the ninth, while Hernandez was left wondering when he'd get a win at Tropicana Field.
While he's 5-2 with a 2.12 ERA in 13 career starts against the Rays, Hernandez remains 0-2 with a 3.23 ERA at The Trop.
"One of these days," he said with a shake of his head.
But the Rays were the ones left shaking their head most of the time on Hernandez's dominant day. Hernandez is now 10th among active pitchers in career strikeouts with 1,809 and 97th on MLB's all-time list, all at age 28.
Hernandez's 15 strikeous ties the Red Sox's Jon Lester for the most in a game in the Majors this season.