BURLINGTON, Conn. -- While most of New England went to bed grumpy and a little depressed, dreaming nightmarish pinstriped dreams after Curt Schilling's blown save, I stayed up late.
Felix Hernandez -- King Felix -- was pitching in Seattle and I was on West Coast time.
I had to watch this 19-year-old wunderkind, this Venezuelan flamethrower, a teenager who has fantasy owners bragging to unsuspecting cubicle mates about drafting him back in March.
I had to watch because I'm a Mariners fan and it's been a stinking lousy two years. I had to watch because he'll be a phenom with an unlimited future for only a breath of time. I had to watch because if he were pitching for the Red Sox or Yankees, the stadiums would have melted from the red-hot hype.
But he's not with Boston or New York. He's with the Mariners. And I had to watch Monday night because maybe -- just maybe -- he really is the King who can save my baseball team.
Top of the First
After blowing away David DeJesus of the Royals to start the game, Hernandez drops a 1-2 curveball on Chip Ambres -- a pitch that fans at the USS Mariner blog have already dubbed the Royal Curve -- and it's a lovely thing, a hard, tight-breaking curve that crosses the heart of the plate at 84 mph. Ambres turns and walks to the dugout.
It's this pitch that has scouts scribbling superlatives in their notebooks, that had Royals outfielder Terrence Long saying before the game, after watching videotape of Hernandez, that the kid has the best stuff of any pitcher he's seen this year besides Roy Oswalt.
For Mariners fans who have watched their pitching staff compile the fewest strikeouts in the majors -- Jamie Moyer, in what surely must be the most brain-numbing stat of the season, leads the team with 77 strikeouts -- it's refreshing to see a power pitcher, one who tips the radar gun at 98 mph in the first and now unleashes this power curve.
Top of the Second
Hernandez has a classic pitcher's build -- which, means, I suppose, that he has a large posterior. He wears his No. 59 jersey loose, and the back comes untucked this inning; Little Leaguers all over the greater Seattle area are undoubtedly already running around with the backs of their jerseys flopping behind them. His pants are pulled down over the tops of his spikes and the bill of his cap is nearly flat. His face is a little pudgy, and I suspect he'll have to watch his weight down the road; let's hope he doesn't morph into Bartolo Colon -- we have enough overweight pitchers wearing loose-fitting uniforms these days. His delivery reminds me of ex-Mariner, and fellow Venezuelan, Freddy Garcia, landing on a stiff front leg, falling off slightly to the first-base side as he completes his delivery.
Hernandez gives up a base hit to Angel Berroa on a first-pitch fastball. Before that, he receives help from second baseman Yuniesky Betancourt, one of about 84 different roster moves this month for the Mariners, who makes a spectacular diving stop to rob Long. Betancourt is really a shortstop, a defector from Cuba, but he's playing second this night, and it's a play that Bret Boone wouldn't have come within five feet of making.