MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

Two aces reign in this Game of Thrones

King Felix, Halos' Richards steal the show as Mariners snag big win

Two aces reign in this Game of Thrones

ANAHEIM -- Garrett Richards, the Angels' rising star, was focused on Seattle's lineup Saturday night, but he also was being measured against Felix Hernandez, the American League's standard of excellence. They don't call him King Felix because he was born to a throne. He earned it.

"I haven't seen it this good for this stretch," Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said of a historic 12-game run of excellence by Hernandez. "It's mind-boggling."

Richards met Hernandez's challenge in a tremendous duel that was turned over to the bullpens at Angel Stadium, the Mariners seizing a 3-2 decision in 12 innings that kept the Angels 1 ½ games behind the A's in the American League West.

Neither Richards, a prince of a guy, nor the King deserved to lose this one. Both were brilliant. Richards insisted Hernandez's presence was not a factor in elevating his performance.

"I treat it like it's just another game," Richards said. "It could be a no-name guy. I try to take the name and player out of the equation."

With greater economy, Richards lasted one inning longer than Hernandez, limiting the Mariners to three hits and an earned run through eight overpowering rounds.

Hernandez, reaching his limit with 114 pitches, held the Angels to one unearned run on two hits and four walks. Hernandez had nine strikeouts, Richards seven.

"Guys were trying to move the ball very early in counts," Richards said. "I only had four strikeouts through six. Hitters want to hit fastballs, stay away from two-strike breaking balls, whatever it may be. I try to pound the zone early, get ahead."

Hernandez's run of 12 consecutive starts of seven-plus innings yielding two or fewer runs has not been accomplished in the AL since Chief Bender did it in 1907. Teammates watch the King in awe.

"He's as big a competitor as anybody I've played with," said Mariners veteran Chris Young, who starts Sunday's series finale against Tyler Skaggs, another gifted young Angels arm. "He has complete confidence in his ability to execute, to get any hitter out with any pitch.

"He's right there with Clayton Kershaw, Adam Wainwright. Felix is an unbelievable competitor. He brings it every night."

Richards is evolving into the same kind of artist. The Oklahoma gunslinger showcased his lethal blend of 96-98 mph heat and a darting slider at 88-90 mph.

Hernandez doesn't throw quite as hard as he once did, but his arsenal is deep and precise. Most of his outs came with a wicked two-seamer, dipping into unhittable locations.

Richards, upset by not being named to the All-Star team, came out demonstrating why he belonged in Minnesota, putting away the first 15 hitters he saw. He struck out the side in the fourth, nailing the great Robinson Cano with a 97 mph heater.

"Yeah, it'll probably be something I carry with me the whole year," Richards said of the All-Star snub. "Just go out every five days and try to win a ballgame."

Hernandez walked Howie Kendrick and David Freese in the second, but Efren Navarro's line drive was speared at shortstop by Brad Miller, who doubled up Kendrick at second.

All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Mike Trout opened the fourth with a double off the wall in left-center, his 18th hit in 46 at-bats against the King. Hernandez, dispatching Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton on ground balls and striking out Kendrick, left Trout at third.

The Mariners ended Richard's perfection in the sixth. Dustin Ackley smacked a double leading off and scored when catcher Jesus Sucre lined a first-pitch single to left.

An 11-pitch walk by Pujols and Hamilton's free pass cost the King in the seventh. Kendrick's grounder through the middle was smothered by Miller at shortstop, but his throw from the knees was wide of first, Pujols scoring on the error.

"I threw everything at him," Hernandez said of Pujols' walk. "I was going to go back and throw the rosin bag to him."

In dire straits, Hernandez escaped.

"That's why he's probably the best pitcher in the game," Pujols said. "He's a warrior. Richards was tough, too. We didn't have many chances, and they didn't either."

Richards left an impression on McClendon, who marveled at Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer during his time as the Tigers' hitting coach.

"He's good, a power arm," McClendon said when asked about Richards, 11-2 with a 2.47 ERA in his first full season as a starter. "He threw the ball pretty darn good. I can see why they're so high on him."

Logan Morrison, whose double in the 12th drove in Kyle Seager with the go-ahead run against Joe Thatcher, marveled at Richards' stuff.

"He throws 98-mph cutters," Morrison said. "That puts him ahead of the league. I was surprised he didn't make the All-Star team."

McClendon used six relievers, Charlie Furbush claiming his first save. Huston Street worked a scoreless ninth in his Angels debut, but the Angels couldn't cash in Kendrick's leadoff double in the bottom half to present him with a win. Freese's homer in the 12th was the Angels' last hurrah.

The Angels and Mariners have played 28 innings in nine hours, 21 minutes to share 3-2 decisions. Young, rebounding superbly from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery to alleviate pressure on his neck and right side, admires his new team's resilience.

"This is a good group of guys," Young said. "We don't get too high or too low. It's a great mix of personalities. When the light's on, we want to win. I don't think we're satisfied. We have more work to do here."

It helps having a King to throw down every fifth day.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.