Felix, Mariners cruise past Angels after Trout's blast
By Alden Gonzalez and Greg Johns
SEATTLE -- Felix Hernandez has never lost a game on Opening Day, and the Mariners' ace wasn't about to start now, not with expectations sky high for a Seattle team opening at Safeco Field for the first time in seven years. The King didn't disappoint, as he allowed just one run in seven innings Monday in a 4-1 victory against the defending American League West champion Angels.
Hernandez improved to 6-0 with a 1.49 ERA in eight Opening Day starts, tying him for the seventh-most victories to open a season in Major League history. He got plenty of help from right fielder Seth Smith, who had a triple, two doubles and two RBIs in his Mariners debut, while left fielder Dustin Ackley cracked a home run as well in front of a sellout crowd of 45,909.
Mike Trout crushed a homer to center in the first inning to win his initial battle with Hernandez, but the Angels mustered just two hits in the starter's seven innings. Jered Weaver gave up eight hits and four runs over six innings in his seventh career Opening Day start.
"I gotta do a better job myself," Weaver said. "A lot of pitches up, falling behind in counts. I had to pretty much battle the whole game. It's a tough way to get it going, but we have two more against them."
The win was the ninth straight Opening Day victory for Seattle, tied for the second-longest streak in MLB history behind the 10 of the Boston Beaneaters in 1887-96. The last team with nine straight was the Reds from 1983-91.
"I thought it was electric," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "I think Felix on the mound really charged our fans up quite a bit, and I think our players fed off that. It was a special day."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Mr. Extra-base hit: Smith introduced himself to the Safeco Field following in a hurry as he became the first Seattle player in franchise history with three extra base hits on Opening Day. After being stranded following a first-inning double, the 32-year-old laced a third-inning triple that got under the glove of a diving Kole Calhoun and drove in Austin Jackson for the Mariners' first run. Smith then scored on a base hit by Robinson Cano for a 2-1 lead, and he added a ground-rule double in the fifth to drive in Brad Miller for a 4-1 advantage. Smith, acquired by trade from the Padres to provide production in the No. 2 spot in the batting order against right-handers, went 3-for-3 before being pinch-hit for in the seventh when the Angels brought in lefty reliever Cesar Ramos.
King on cruise control: The Angels put two on with nobody out in the fifth when Erick Aybar singled and Hernandez plunked C.J. Cron in the elbow, but the ace got out of that jam by striking out Chris Iannetta on a nasty 79-mph curve and then inducing a double-play grounder on his next pitch to Johnny Giavotella. Other than Trout's first-inning homer, that was the only time the Angels advanced a runner past first base. Besides allowing just two hits and a walk, Hernandez struck out 10 to become just the fourth pitcher in MLB history with at least three Opening Day starts with 10 or more strikeouts. Randy Johnson holds the record with four, while Pedro Martinez and Bob Gibson also have three each.
Denied by King Felix (again): There was a time, not that long ago, when the Angels actually had some success against Hernandez. That was in 2012, when they plated 24 runs (22 earned) on 41 hits in 31 2/3 innings against them. After that, either Hernandez adjusted or the inevitable occurred, prompting the odds to swing back in his favor. He posted a 2.90 ERA in five starts against Los Angeles in '13 and a 0.79 ERA against the club in '14. Since the start of last season, Hernandez has held the Angels to six runs (four earned) on 16 hits and 10 walks in 41 innings, striking out 57 batters in that stretch. The Angels may have to figure something out if they hope to win another division title.
Trout 2014-like: The 2014 season saw Trout increase his home run and strikeout total, and Opening Day against the Mariners was a snapshot of that. After his first-inning homer, the superstar center fielder struck out three straight times, all with big hacks on two-strike counts. The last came while representing the tying run, with runners on first and second in the eighth inning against rookie right-hander Carson Smith. The 23-year-old capped an eventful Opening Day by robbing Logan Morrison of a homer in the eighth.
"The guy up at the plate has to have that tool in his game, to get that bunt down. It's not going to be an easy bunt to get down." -- Angels manager Mike Scioscia, on not electing to have Iannetta bunt with runners on first and second and none out in a one-run game in the fifth inning
"You know what you're going to get from Felix when the lights are on and Opening Day is here. I think he was trying to work on stuff in spring. Once the intensity is up and adrenaline is going, you're going to get 'Original Felix.'" -- Mariners catcher Mike Zunino
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
• Hernandez is tied for seventh all-time in Opening Day victories with Roger Clemens, Juan Marichal, Greg Maddux, Dwight Gooden and Wes Ferrell, all with six. The record of eight Opening Day wins is held by Jack Morris and Pete Alexander, while Tom Seaver, Randy Johnson, Walter Johnson and Jimmy Key have seven.
• Trout has faced Hernandez more than any other pitcher, and he's had his fair share of success. Heading into Monday's game, the Angels' center fielder carried a .367/.389/.633 slash line and two homers in 54 plate appearances against King Felix.
WHAT'S NEXT Angels:C.J. Wilson's hope for a bounce-back year begins Tuesday, when he faces the Mariners at Safeco Field for the season's second game. Wilson posted a 6.04 ERA in his last 16 regular-season starts last year, then exited Game 3 of the American League Division Series after just six batters. Game time is 7:10 p.m. PT on MLB.TV and Fox Sports West.
Mariners: Left-hander James Paxton gets the Game 2 start in the rematch. Though Paxton has only 17 Major League appearances, four of those came against the Angels (2-1, 2.59 ERA) last year. The game will be televised in the Northwest on ROOT Sports.