I’ve been to some big/odd/random professional baseball games in my day. My very first game ever was in 1996 against the California Angels, on April 15th. The Mariners were down 9-1 in the top of the fourth inning and ended up coming back to win 11-10; at the time, it was the greatest Mariners comeback in franchise history. A-Rod hit a homer out of the 9-hole, Norm Charlton pitched 2 innings to get the win. It was an amazing game, just me and my dad (I think, I was 15 at the time, so who knows how good my memory is).
The most important game I ever went to was on September 23, 1997, against the Anaheim Angels. The Mariners jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the first thanks to an A-Rod single and a Jay Buhner 3-run bomb. Randy Johnson was on the mound and would give up two more runs – three in total – over 8 innings. In the ninth, Heathcliff Slocumb gave up a leadoff single as the Mariners clung to their 4-3 lead, then got a fly ball out and struck out the next two guys to lock down the save. What made this game different is that it was the game that officially locked the Mariners in as A.L. West Champions. Randy’s record went to 19-4 and we were going back to the playoffs for the second time (in franchise history) in three years.
In Cheney Stadium, in early August, 1998, I saw the first start for Freddy Garcia in a Rainiers uniform. I was somehow graced with seats right behind the catcher thanks to a family member, and we were amazed at the kid as he spun 7 innings of 1-run gold. The trading of Randy Johnson was universally panned (as it should have been), but no one could deny the Mariners got some talented prospects in return.
I also saw Ken Cloude’s first start in a Mariners uniform (August 9, 1997). Now, you may be wondering why this is such a big deal; well, I’ll tell you. It was a 5-2 defeat to James Baldwin and the Chicago White Sox, dropping the Mariners to merely 15-games over .500 (GOD, those were the days). Ken Cloude was a prospect from the minors we were all hoping would settle down the back-end of the rotation (when guys like Bob Wolcott, Scott Sanders, and Dennis Martinez were failing terribly). In the end, Cloude didn’t add up to much, and his Major League career was very short lived.
But, on August 9, 1997, he got the closest I’ve ever seen to a perfect game/no hitter (IN PERSON) in my entire life. Ever since I first got into baseball – and specifically getting into keeping score while at a baseball game – it’s been my dream to one day keep score of a no hitter by a Mariners pitcher. Oddly enough, the closest I’ve ever gotten in person was at a Rainiers game, as Derek Lowe (yeah, THAT Derek Lowe) pitched a no hitter into the 8th inning (but that’s neither here nor there). Cloude ended up perfect through 5 innings (with the Mariners clinging to a 1-0 lead at the time). He gave up a walk in the 6th, but still had a no hitter going into the 7th. It’s unfortunate the Mariners couldn’t play add-on in this situation, as he gave up a single/walk/single to lead off the 7th. Paul Spoljaric came in and gave up all three of Cloude’s runs that he inherited. We went on to pull to within 3-2, but for some reason Lou left Bobby Ayala in there for 2.1 innings. He was actually solid until the 9th, when he gave up a 2-run homer to seal it.
So, Ken Cloude is my high-water mark of pitching perfection. Obviously, I’ve seen better-pitched games (any number of Randy Johnson and Felix Hernandez games will attest to that). But, no one is touching Cloude for the 18 outs he got before giving up a hit.
Last night, I thought Felix might’ve had a shot. To be fair, I ALWAYS think Felix has a shot at perfection, because Felix is perfect in every way. But, as soon as he struck out the side in the top of the first without much fuss, I knew we were on to something. He was perfect through 14 batters, until Trevor Plouffe knocked a solid single into right field. So, the dream continues. No perfect scorecard for me, but I’ll keep trying.
Doesn’t mean the game wasn’t a rousing success! How about this: both pitchers went the distance! When was the last time we’ve seen that? Phil Hughes was solid, but obviously not good enough as he gave up a monster bomb to Nelson Cruz in the second, and the first extra base hit of the year to LoMo in the form of a solo homer in the fifth. The first homer would be all Felix needed, as he got the 9-inning shutout. He was dynamic. We’ve seen stuff like this from him before, but it seems to be so rare when he’s this economical. He ended up with 102 pitches total.
A sight for sore eyes, I’ll say that much. The day started out on kind of a bummer with Iwakuma going on the DL. We’ll have to wait to see if he’s able to turn his career around; for the record, I STRONGLY doubt he’s had this issue with his trap muscle dating back to late last season. But, if he did, and this is what’s caused the majority of his problems, then I say Get Well Soon.
In the meantime, I’m going to be day-dreaming of this Felix start for the rest of the weekend.