It had been so long since he pitched with a lead that large, dealing with such good fortune might have caused him to wonder, "Now what do I do?"
But he knew exactly what to do.
"I thought, 'Yeah -- now go out and do your job,'" Hernandez said after holding the Yankees to four hits over eight scoreless innings and striking out 11 in the Mariners' 6-0 victory before 46,493 at Yankee Stadium.
It was the first time since the ninth inning on July 10 -- against the Yankees at Safeco Field -- that Hernandez pitched with a three-run lead.
The Mariners had scored five runs for him in his seven starts since the All-Star Game, and although he pitched like an American League Cy Young Award candidate, his losing record was an eyesore -- even if it wasn't his fault.
"You can't expect him to go out there and [the score be] 0-0 in the seventh inning, time after time after time," Mariners designated hitter Russell Branyan said. "It's a lot nicer to give him a lead and let him settle into a groove."
Branyan helped establish that groove on Friday night.
He slugged a three-run home run off A.J. Burnett in the first inning and tacked on a solo blast in the sixth, powering the Mariners to their fifth victory on this seven-game-old road trip and seventh in 10 games under interim manager Daren Brown.
It was the 14th multihomer game in Branyan's career, and his first with Seattle.
There was another first -- in the first inning.
Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins pulled off a double steal, something the Mariners expected to see a lot his season.
The top-of-the-lineup table setters entered the game tied for sixth in the AL with 30 stolen bases apiece, but had not pilfered a base on the same pitch.
But now they have done it.
Ichiro started the game with a single to center field -- his 155th hit of the season -- and advanced when Figgins walked. Then, on the second pitch to Branyan, Ichiro and Figgins went into motion and swiped bases with a throw.
Branyan scored them, and himself, with a prodigious blast into the Yankees' bullpen in right-center field.
Did the double steal rattle Burnett?
"I don't know," Branyan said. "It was a situation in the game where we were being aggressive and I was happy to see it. I didn't care if I fell behind in the count 0-and-2. At that point, I was just focused on putting the ball on the ground and getting at least one in. [Burnett] got one up in the zone and we got more than one."
Three more runs would follow, but Hernandez would not really need them as he beat the Yankees for the third time this season in dominating fashion. The 11 strikeouts, including two in the fifth -- when the Yankees loaded the bases with one out -- and three in the seventh, matched his second-highest total of the season, also against the Yankees on June 30.
In three starts against the Bronx Bombers this season, Hernandez is 3-0 with two complete games and has surrendered one run in 26 innings.
"He's pitched great against us this year," Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson said. "His record definitely doesn't speak for how good a pitcher he is this season. All three outings against us have been similar, where he's been dominant and effective and able to go very deep into the ballgame.
"He throws strikes often, doesn't fall behind and he's got good velocity on all his pitches, even his offspeed stuff. Nothing's really straight. Even today, in all three of my at-bats, I think I had two balls I could have done something with and didn't get an opportunity. You start eliminating the opportunity to get good pitches to drive, and the pitcher is going to be in the driver's seat.
"Sure enough, he did that through the entire game."
Felix needed 117 pitches to get through eight innings, which prompted Brown to make a pitching change. He brought in left-hander Garrett Olson, who retired the side in order.
Brown said it never crossed his mind to send his ace back out in the ninth.
"Like I've said before, this kid is valuable to our future," he said. "I've love to give him the opportunity to go back out if he can keep his [pitch count] down a little bit. But if we're looking at him going back out with 125 or 130 pitches, that is probably a bit much right now."
Brown said the even if the score had been closer, someone else was going to pitch the final inning.
Hernandez entered the game working on a streak of three consecutive complete games pitched against the Yankees.
By the time he surrendered a hit, a one-out double to left field in the fourth, Hernandez had a five-run lead, and once he got out of the fifth-inning jam, striking out Ramiro Pena and Brett Gardner, it was smooth sailing.
"He's a No. 1 guy, and he did what he was supposed to do tonight when they gave him a lead, especially early," Burnett said. "He got ahead and put us away pretty easily."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less