Friday night wasn’t the first time the Texas Rangers had defeated Felix Hernandez, who has lost to them more than any other team in his career.
But count the Rangers’ 1-0 victory over Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners as one of the more improbable among the 21 losses they have handed the former Cy Young winner and one of the best pitchers going this season.
To do it, the Rangers needed a combination of starter Nick Tepesch matching Hernandez zero for zero. They needed the bullpen to keep up Tepesch’s pace. They needed the healthy legs of Elvis Andrus, and the banged-up legs of Shin-Soo Choo and Adrian Beltre.
The Rangers got it all en route to their second consecutive shutout and their American League-leading 13th shutout of the season.
“It was a good team win,” Tepesch said.
He didn’t earn the win, but he allowed only two hits and two walks in 6 1/3 efficient innings, and Jason Frasor, Shawn Tolleson and Joakim Soria got the final eight outs as the Rangers moved within a game of .500.
Soria quickly went through the top of the Mariners’ lineup, including Rangers nemesis Kyle Seager and AL batting leader Robinson Cano to end it for his 14th save in 15 tries.
But he got the save opportunity thanks to the work of Tepesch, Frasor and Tolleson, and the legs of Andrus, Choo and Beltre a half-inning earlier.
Andrus started the winning rally with a one-out single off Hernandez, who was working on an 18-inning scoreless streak. Andrus stole second on the third pitch to Shin-Soo Choo, and then took third as Choo drew a walk.
“I knew [Hernandez] would be fast to the plate the first two pitches and then he would slow down,” Andrus said. “Give credit to Choo. He took some pitches and gave me a chance to steal.”
The single and the walk were the end for Hernandez, who threw 114 pitches before giving way to closer Fernando Rodney.
Beltre, who had bounced three times to shortstop, was next. He fouled off three pitches while trying to get a ball into the outfield before hitting another slow chopper to shortstop.
Brad Miller fielded it and threw to second for the first out, but Choo slid hard into Cano as he was trying to complete the double play and the ball skipped past first baseman Logan Morrison.
Beltre was safe, Andrus scored, and the Rangers had the game’s only run.
“I was trying to look for a pitch I could hit in the air,” Beltre said. “I put it in play, and when I saw the ball, I thought I had a chance to beat it out to get that run in.”
Said Choo: “It was a big situation. I had to do something. I took a long secondary lead and I tried to break it up at second base.”
Manager Ron Washington, though, gave much of the credit to Tepesch, who faced the minimum through five innings and allowed hits to only one Mariners batter. Mike Zunino singled in the third and doubled in the sixth.
Washington said that Tepesch’s pitching might have been the best of his career. Tepesch said that he could throw his sinker to right- and left-handed hitters, the key to his performance.
“It was probably the best it’s been all year,” he said. “When I can command it and it’s as good as it was, good things are usually going to happen.
But Tepesch has never fared well the third time through a batting order, not to mention beyond the sixth inning. So, after he walked two of the first three Mariners in the seventh to put runners at first and second, Washington went to Frasor in the bullpen even though Tepesch was at only 72 pitches.
“I wanted to give them a different look,” Washington said.
Frasor struck out Stefan Romero and, after a passed ball, Dustin Ackley to end the threat. Tolleson (2-1) worked a perfect eighth inning.
“Tepesch came in strong. The bullpen was outstanding,” Beltre said. “There was nothing more you could ask from the bullpen. When you’ve got a pitching staff like that, when you only have to score one run to win, it’s pretty remarkable.”
So was the Rangers’ 1-0 win against Hernandez. They’ve beaten him many times before, but never with the combination they got at Safeco Field.
“We just got enough to beat him,” Beltre said.