King Felix's transcendent gift
August, 16, 2012
By Buster Olney | ESPN Insider
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenFelix Hernandez produced a thing of beauty Wednesday afternoon in Seattle.There is a spectacular scene in the Oscar-winning movie "Amadeus" in which composer Antonio Salieri presents Mozart with a piece written in his honor. In playing the music, Mozart demonstrates his own extraordinary talent. At the same time, he makes Salieri understand the full depth of difference between his ability and Mozart's, and how he couldn't possibly be as good as his rival.
I thought of this Wednesday while watching Felix Hernandez throw his perfect game, because he is baseball's Mozart.
He was a childhood prodigy who was nicknamed "The King" while he was a teenager. Like a composer who seemingly can generate whole operas in his mind, there doesn't seem to be anything he can't do when he pitches, at a level of brilliance that others can't even fathom.
Hernandez's fastball has ridiculous movement. His changeup sometimes is of the Bugs Bunny variety. His command of his slider is surpassed only by his ability to control his curveball. Early in the 2009 season, the Los Angeles Angels stole four bases against Hernandez, and before his next start, Rick Adair -- who was the Mariners' pitching coach at the time -- spoke to Hernandez about how he needed to start focusing on holding runners because it was becoming a problem.
Hernandez had three more starts against the Angels that season and allowed one more steal. It was though he just decided that this stolen-base nonsense was going to stop, and he just ended it.
Hernandez has played on mostly bad teams in his career, but when he faces a good lineup, he just seems to raise his level, like an older sibling who decides to score the last 20 points in a one-on-one game against a younger sibling because he just won't let him win.
Hernandez has made five starts in Yankee Stadium, which is typically viewed as one of the toughest parks for pitchers in baseball, against what is typically one of the best and deepest lineups. These are the results of those games:
Innings: 39 2/3
Earned runs: 5
It's as though Hernandez decides that he's going to win, that he's going to inflict his will on the game. It's more complicated than that, of course, and Hernandez should get the credit for honing that ability. But I spent a few moments Thursday morning thinking of athletes who had that kind of transcendent talent similar to that of Hernandez, and the list I came up with was very short:
Tiger Woods. Josh Hamilton, for sure. Willie Mays. Joe DiMaggio. Michael Jordan. Babe Ruth. Jim Brown. Pedro Martinez. Wayne Gretzky. Barry Sanders.
For the readers: Name other "kings" in sports.
Sean Rodriguez, who made the 27th out, thought about dropping a bunt, Marc Topkin writes.
Hernandez's perfect game was the 23rd in MLB history, Larry Stone writes. For Hernandez, perfection seemed inevitable, writes Steve Kelley.
The Tampa Bay Rays had a whole lot of praise for Felix.
By The Numbers, Felix editionFrom ESPN Stats & Info
12: All 12 of Hernandez's strikeouts in his perfect game were on off-speed pitches (six changeups, five curveballs, one slider).
23: Hernandez threw the 23rd perfect game in MLB history and the third this season. (Philip Humber, Matt Cain pitched the others.)
25: Swings-and-misses for the Rays against Hernandez's off-speed pitches, the most by a starter this season.
93: Average mph of Hernandez's fastballs, his fastest in a start this season. Hernandez averaged 94.3 mph in innings 7-9, including eight pitches 95 mph or faster.
Hernandez had his breaking stuff working on Wednesday -- his 25 swings-and-misses on his breaking pitches are the most by anyone in our database (since 2009). Hernandez used all four of his pitches to get 27 outs against the Rays but increased his off-speed usage to its highest total of the season (59.3 percent of pitches). Hernandez got 15 of 27 outs with his off-speed pitches.
Pitch selection: 46 fastballs, 25 changeups, 22 curveballs, 20 sliders
Outs by pitch: 12 on fastballs, seven on changeups, five on curveballs, three on sliders
• Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals keep humming along, writes Adam Kilgore. Strasburg pitched six more innings Wednesday.
From Adam Kilgore's story:
- He made his other frames look easy, throwing 100 pitches total. He may have five starts remaining, perhaps more and perhaps fewer. His innings count for the year is 139 1/3, a number he has pushed out of his mind.
- "It's out of my control," Strasburg said. "I'm just doing everything I can to help this team win games and it's all going to take care of itself in the end."
Washington Post writer James Wagner spoke with some doctors about this situation.
• The Nationals have been without All-Star shortstop Ian Desmond, but they haven't missed a beat while Danny Espinosa and Steve Lombardozzi have filled in, writes Amanda Comak.
• The Pittsburgh Pirates are working to avoid the same kind of collapse they had last season, but they have had a brutal series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and now they've lost Neil Walker for the immediate future, Bill Brink writes.
• Just so we can get all the stories straight: The Boston Red Sox are saying they had a players-owner meeting that involved about two dozen people, and nobody complained about Bobby Valentine. At the same time, Nick Cafardo writes that the Red Sox are concerned about leaks.
The chicken-and-beer Red Sox ... stunned that there are leaks.
The Red Sox -- some of who flambéed Terry Francona as he departed the organization -- are surprised there are leaks.
Here's John Henry's statement.
The Red Sox lost again Wednesday, and they're not worth attention, writes John Tomase.
Cabrera tests positive
A partial list of folks who might have some hard questions after Melky Cabrera's 50-game suspension:
Ian Kennedy, against whom Cabrera hit an Opening Day homer.
Antonio Bastardo, the Phillies pitcher who allowed a walk-off hit to Cabrera in April.
Ricky Nolasco, who was almost single-handedly beaten by Cabrera on May 27.
Or how about all the teams that got hammered by Cabrera this year and saw firsthand how he impacted the standings?
Kirk Gibson wants tougher penalties for players who are busted. From Nick Piecoro's story:
- "I can say that certainly the majority of people who are in this game care about the integrity of the game," Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson said. "We're all committed to cleaning it up. Obviously, there's not a big enough deterrent if it continues."
- Gibson doesn't know what the right answer is. He just believes it's something greater than the penalties tied to the game's current drug policy, which calls for a 50-game suspension for a first-time positive test.