Felix Hernandez tosses MLB's 23rd perfecto

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Felix Hernandez tosses MLB's 23rd perfecto

From Comcast SportsNet
SEATTLE (AP) -- As he rode down in the crowded elevator wearing a wide grin after watching Felix Hernandez twirl baseball history, Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik felt like having a little fun. He pulled out his cellphone, held it to his ear and listened for a moment. "No, we're not trading Felix Hernandez," Zduriencik jokingly said into his phone. Not after Wednesday. Not anytime soon. Hernandez pitched the Seattle Mariners' first perfect game and the 23rd in baseball history, overpowering the Tampa Bay Rays in a brilliant 1-0 victory Wednesday. The 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner has never hid his desire for pitching perfection. For a franchise on its way to an 11th straight season without a playoff appearance, Hernandez is the one constant keeping fans interested in Mariners baseball. Hernandez (11-5) rewarded those fans with a 12-strikeout gem on Wednesday afternoon. He baffled the Rays using his sharp curve and blistering fastball to keep the Rays guessing all day. It finally culminated in the ninth inning when Hernandez struck out pinch-hitter Desmond Jennings, got pinch-hitter Jeff Keppinger to ground out and closed out the perfecto by falling behind Sean Rodriguez 2-0 and then throwing three perfect pitches. His teammates had spent most of the game leaving Hernandez to himself, but after the right-hander was done pointing at the sky, he was engulfed in celebration. "It was always in my mind, every game. I need to throw a perfect game.' For every pitcher I think it's in their mind," Hernandez said. "Today it happened and it's something special. I don't have any words to explain this. This is pretty amazing. It doesn't happen every day." It was the third perfect game in baseball this season -- a first -- joining gems by Chicago's Philip Humber against the Mariners in April and San Francisco's Matt Cain versus Houston in June. More than half of all perfectos -- 12 -- have come in the last 25 seasons. This also was the sixth no-hitter in the majors this season, three of them at Safeco Field. Humber threw his gem in Seattle, then six Mariners pitchers combined to hold the Los Angeles Dodgers hitless at the park on June 8. There have been seven no-hitters in a season twice since 1900. It happened in 1990 and again in 1991, with Nolan Ryan throwing one in each of those years. For the Rays, it was an all-too-familiar feeling. This was the third time in four seasons they had a perfect game pitched against them, following efforts by Dallas Braden in 2010 and Mark Buehrle in 2009. "The one thing I've learned is that no-hitters and perfect games don't mean anything about tomorrow, anyway," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. Hernandez's dominance got stronger as the game progressed. He cruised for five innings, then pitched through tough at-bats, delay tactics and the mounting pressure of perfection to close out the gem. Hernandez struck out 12, including eight in the final four innings. He struck out the side in the sixth, did it again in the eighth and hit as high as 95 mph in the ninth. Two starts earlier against the New York Yankees, Hernandez tossed a two-hit shutout, leading Seattle manager Eric Wedge to call it the finest outing he's seen from Hernandez. Suffice to say, Wednesday was better. "It was special. He had special stuff," Wedge said. "But Felix is so consistently good that when he does take it up to another level, which we've seen him do through the course of the year, you never know how it's going to turn out." It was the seventh perfect game won 1-0, thanks largely to the hustle of shortstop Brendan Ryan. He led off the third with his first hit in 10 at-bats against Jeremy Hellickson (7-8), a sharp single to left. He was still at first with two outs when he got a great jump on a curveball that bounced in the dirt and escaped catcher Jose Lobaton. Ryan never hesitated at second and made it all the way to third. He then jogged home when Jesus Montero followed with a single to left. Ryan also had a defensive hand in keeping Hernandez perfect. B.J. Upton hit a grounder in the seventh that third baseman Kyle Seager dived toward but let go past. Ryan was there in the hole to field the bouncer and threw out Upton. The other impressive defensive play came on the first batter of the game when Eric Thames tracked down Sam Fuld's drive in deep right-center field. That's how strong Hernandez was. Only five of the 27 outs were recorded by the outfield. "You could throw any lineup out there today," Seattle catcher John Jaso said, "and it's close to the same result." Tampa Bay seemed to try another technique to disrupt Hernandez, and that also failed. With two outs in the seventh, Maddon came out to argue after plate umpire Rob Drake called strike one on a borderline pitch to Matt Joyce. Maddon stuck around for a minute or so to argue, finally getting ejected. When he left, Hernandez was still right in rhythm. "I was yelling at Joe to get ... out of there," Wedge said. It was the second no-hitter this season for the Mariners -- doubling the franchise's total entering the year -- and third total at Safeco Field after the park went more than a dozen years without one. After Humber's perfect game, a six-pack of Seattle pitchers tossed a combined no-hitter against the Dodgers in June. The six no-hitters is two shy of the record set in 1884, one short of the total in each of the 1990 and 1991 seasons. "Hard to believe. It's hard to believe," baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said. "Struck out five of the last six hitters. That's pretty good." NOTES: Seattle's last individual no-hitter came when Chris Bosio shut down Boston on April 22, 1993. Seattle's other no-hitter was thrown by Randy Johnson against Detroit on June 2, 1990. ... Tampa Bay was no-hit for the fifth time in franchise history. ... Maddon's ejection was his second of the season. ... Maddon said the team plans to keep INF Luke Scott on his rehab assignment in the minors through the weekend. Scott has been on the DL with an oblique strain.

Raiders' magic dissipates, but valuable lesson about contending learned

Raiders' magic dissipates, but valuable lesson about contending learned

So the Oakland Raiders are good, but not magical, let alone soaked in destiny. So they can make every game a hard slog for the opponent, but they are not invulnerable. So they can be inefficient, and too sure of themselves, and terribly wasteful when they’re cold.

In other words, they are part of the National Football League – no longer too good to be true.

Their performance against the Chiefs in Kansas City was a pyramid of blown opportunities, opportunities made necessary by a terrible start. A week ago, against a borderline playoff team, they could get away with it. Thursday, on hostile ground, against a team that has lost three of its previous 23 regular season games and has a defense that specializes in standing on your chest until you whistle Yankee Doodle through your navel, they couldn’t.

The result of the 21-13 loss in a game with 12 more points than degrees of temperature is that the Raiders are now the fifth-best team in the American Football Conference rather than the first-best team with four more chances to change that position.

In other words, Thursday’s defeat only provided this much wisdom: The Raiders are a good team vulnerable to other good teams with an iron-plated sense of purpose, stubborn defenses that can apply and maintain a chokehold for hours on end, and offenses that don’t feel compelled to imitate Oakland’s offense by getting into a shootout.

And also this: There is nothing that would necessarily prevent them from beating the Chiefs in case of a third match, even though Kansas City held them to fewer points in two games than they scored in every other game save one. They are still, as the pedants say, “in the argument.”

But they have flaws to be exposed against the right team in the right situation. Kansas City has been that team twice, and New England probably is, but there the list probably stops. Nobody in the AFC North or South seems terribly capable of matching them in neutral conditions, but here’s the other bone spur:

The playoffs are not about neutral conditions.

The Raiders have come a long way in what most people think is a long time, but in fact in terms of team construction, you can throw out everything before 2013, and almost everything before 2015. They are just now getting a full understanding of the hardest part of becoming a Super Bowl contender – the other Super Bowl contenders.

Yes, Kansas City has an indifferent playoff history under Andy Reid, but it is clear that under current conditions the Chiefs are serious players. And while we have no link to how the Raiders would fare against new England, we are pretty sure that they wouldn’t want to play the second weekend of January arse-deep in snow in Foxborough.

The point? Now they get how hard this contender stuff really is. They could not have learned that lesson any other way – not anyone they’ve played yet save Kansas City.

Their next lessons come in Weeks 16 and 17, when they face the frantically desperate Indianapolis Colts in Oakland and then the Broncos in Denver the week after. Desperate teams can be very difficult indeed, especially to teams that are safe and dry and home, playoff-wise.

And then there are the actual playoffs, which if they were played today would have the Raiders traveling to Houston for a very winnable game against the stultifying Texans. The week after, they could be either in Kansas City again or in New England, getting a gut full of visiting field disadvantage.

But as a learning experience, the Raiders may have come out very well indeed. They now know in very real and personal ways the real difference between where they think they should be and where they are, as well as how many ways this can go terribly wrong between now and then.

And also how well it can go, if they learn what the Chiefs taught them again Thursday.

Instant Replay: Raiders offense hits wall in loss to Chiefs

Instant Replay: Raiders offense hits wall in loss to Chiefs

BOX SCORE

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Raiders had a lot working against them Thursday night. They had to travel two time zones on a short week to play the biggest game of the season in bitter cold.

The uphill climb proved too daunting for the Silver and Black, who snapped a six game win streak with a 21-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

This result puts the Chiefs atop the AFC West. Both teams are 10-3, but Kansas City owns an all-important tiebreaker with a season sweep over Oakland with three games to play.

The Raiders now need help to win the division. If that doesn’t happen, they’ll likely end up in the Wild Card pool, where they would likely spend the playoffs on the road should they qualify for the postseason.

The Raiders were down eight points for most of the second half, with the Oakland defense holding the Chiefs down and the Raiders offense scuffling along in the cold. The passing game was disjointed at times, a complete mess at others with everyone save the line sharing in blame.

The offense had an important shot to score, with a drive that started at the Raiders' 26-yard line with 8 minutes, 26 seconds remaining.

The team with six fourth-quarter comebacks couldn’t secure a second. The Raiders marched down to the Kansas City 19-yard line but couldn’t punch it in. Derek Carr and Seth Roberts couldn’t hook up on 4th-and-6 and the Raiders turned it over on downs.

The Raiders offense struggled through this game. Quarterback Derek Carr was off most of the night, without the pinpoint accuracy characteristic of his throws.

Receivers weren’t helping him out either, with several drops in key moments. That was especially true of Roberts and Michael Crabtree, who couldn’t corral golden opportunities.

The biggest belonged to Amari Cooper, who was wide open deep and couldn’t track down a floating pass that likely would’ve been a touchdown had he caught it.

That unit was just 5-for-18 on third down, a clip that doesn’t help win games.

The Raiders scored just six points off just three turnovers, which is the main reason why they lost this pivotal contest.

The defense tightened up in the second half especially, with a pair of third-quarter takeaways followed by solid third-down defense that gave the offense plenty of opportunities.

Latavius Murray was running strong, and finished with 103 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Carr really struggled, with his worst game of the year. That was evident in his stat line: 17-of-41 passing for 117 yards, no touchdowns and a 49.1 passer rating.

The first half did not go the Raiders’ way. They were down 21-10 after two quarters, a stretch only salvaged with a last-second touchdown from Latavius Murray before the half.

Before that, it was all Chiefs. The Raiders opened scoring with a field goal following a muffed punt recovered by James Cowser.

Then Kansas City rattled off 21 unanswered points, including a 36-yard touchdown catch by Tyreek Hill and 78-yard punt return by the same guy and a 3-yard TD run by Charcandrick West.

Things got better in the second half thanks to defensive takeaways. TJ Carrie intercepted a pass deep in Chiefs territory, and the Raiders left with a field goal. Khalil Mack had a strip sack on the next series that Denico Autry recovered, but the Raiders squandered a shot at points when Marquette King couldn’t corral a slightly errant snap in time for Sebastian Janikowski to put a boot on it.

Kelce mocks Marquette:Tyreek Hill returned a Marquette King put 78 yards for a touchdown, something the Chiefs surely enjoyed. Afterward, tight end Travis Kelce found King and did a bronco riding dance – King dances after good punts, and did that one versus Denver – King ended up chasing down Hill and taunting him. That action drew a flag.

Sitting it out: Left guard Kelechi Osemele was a late scratch due to illness. He was replaced by Jon Feliciano and Vadal Alexander on the inside. The Raiders were also missing two other starters in safety Karl Joseph and defensive tackle Stacy McGee. Defensive tackle Darius Latham missed a second straight game with ankle injury, the Raiders thin on the defensive interior.

What’s next: The Raiders will have a mini bye over the weekend, giving them an extended stretch before playing their second road game in as many weeks. The travel to San Diego for another AFC West showdown against the last-place Chargers.