Felix Hernandez, also known as King Felix, is one of the greatest pitchers in Seattle Mariner’s history. He spent his entire 15-year career with the Mariners, winning the Cy Young Award in 2010, leading the American League in ERA twice, and making six All-Star appearances. But perhaps his most memorable achievement was throwing the first and only perfect game in Mariners franchise history on August 15, 2012.
A perfect game is a rare and special feat in baseball, where a pitcher does not allow any batter to reach base in a nine-inning game. Only 23 pitchers have accomplished this feat in Major League Baseball history, and Hernandez is the most recent one to do so. He faced the Tampa Bay Rays at Safeco Field in Seattle and retired all 27 batters he faced, striking out 12 of them. He threw 113 pitches, 77 of them for strikes, and induced 26 swinging strikes from the Rays hitters. He also showed great command of his pitches, only reaching a three-ball count on three batters.
The game was a pitchers’ duel, as the Mariners only scored one run in the third inning on a single by Jesus Montero. Hernandez had to preserve the lead and the perfect game with little margin for error. He did so by dominating the Rays lineup with his fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup. He struck out the side in the sixth and eighth innings and got the final out on a called strike three to Sean Rodriguez on a changeup at the knees.
The crowd of 21,889 erupted in celebration as Hernandez was mobbed by his teammates on the mound. He hugged his catcher John Jaso, who had caught his first no-hitter, and then saluted the fans with both arms raised. He later said that it was “the best feeling ever” and that he was “living the dream”1
Hernandez’s perfect game was historic for several reasons. It was the third perfect game of the 2012 season, following Philip Humber of the Chicago White Sox and Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants. This marked the first time that three perfect games were thrown in one MLB season2 It was also the second time that two perfect games were thrown at the same park in the same season, as Humber’s perfect game took place at Safeco Field when the White Sox were visiting3 Additionally, it was the first time that a team was on both ends of a perfect game in the same season, as the Mariners were no-hit by Humber earlier that year4
The Rays were also familiar with being no-hit, as they became the first team to be on the receiving end of three perfect games in four seasons. They were previously shut down by Dallas Braden of the Oakland Athletics in 2010 and Mark Buehrle of the Chicago White Sox in 2009. Four Rays players – Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, B.J. Upton, and Ben Zobrist – played in all three games, tying Alfredo Griffin’s record for most losing perfect games played in.
Hernandez’s perfect game remains one of the most impressive pitching performances in baseball history, and a highlight of his stellar career with the Mariners. He retired after the 2019 season as the franchise leader in wins, strikeouts, innings pitched, and games started. He is widely regarded as one of the best pitchers of his generation, and a potential Hall of Famer. His perfect game will always be remembered as a day when he was truly king of the mound.