By Joe Christensen, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –
SEATTLE — Two days after tossing the 23rd perfect game in major league history, Felix Hernandez was still the toast of Seattle on Friday, as a local politician named an entire county after him.
King County executive Dow Constantine made an official proclamation, naming it King Felix County for the day, and then Mariners righthander Hisashi Iwakuma opened the evening with his own burst of perfection.
Iwakuma recorded 12 outs before the Twins had a base runner, giving Seattle a streak of 42 consecutive batters retired, stretching to Tuesday. According to the Mariners, it was the majors’ longest such streak since at least 1974.
When the Twins finally started reaching base, it was too little, too late with Nick Blackburn pitching, and the Mariners held on for a 5-3 victory at Safeco Field.
Blackburn (4-9) remained winless since June 22, allowing five runs on 11 hits for 5 innings.
Seattle built a 3-0 lead by the second inning and stretched it to 5-1 in the sixth. The Twins made things interesting at the end, as Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham hit back-to-back home runs in the eighth inning off righthander Stephen Pryor, but Lucas Luetge retired Justin Morneau for the final out that inning, and Tom Wilhelmsen pitched the ninth for his 17th save.
“Offensively, we didn’t do much,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said, after his team fell to 1-7 in its past eight games. “You saw a pretty good closer there. He threw the living fire out of the ball. (Iwakuma) was pretty good, too. He pretty much ate us up for a good amount of the ballgame.”
Iwakuma (4-3) held the Twins to one unearned run on four hits over seven innings, showing why the Twins were so enamored with him two winters ago, when he first considered coming over from Japan.
The Twins placed the second highest bid, behind Oakland, who failed to sign the righthander, leaving him in Japan for one more season. Last winter, with Iwakuma dealing with an arm issue, the Twins backed off and he signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with Seattle that includes up to $3.4 million in performance incentives.
The 31-year-old could be cashing in, as he is 3-1 with a 2.37 ERA in his past six starts.
Blackburn has struggled across the board this year, but especially in the first inning, allowing 21 runs on 32 hits in 19 starts.
Last Saturday, he fell behind 3-0 in the first inning, as Tampa Bay got home runs from B.J. Upton and Matt Joyce. And Seattle kept the trend going Friday, as John Jaso drilled a two-out, two-run homer over the right field wall, giving the Mariners a 2-0 lead.
Miguel Olivo led off the second inning with another home run — the 23rd homer allowed this season for Blackburn. Just like that, it was 3-0.
“At some point you have to think it’s not just bad luck,” Blackburn said. “It’s tough to have any confidence. I’m still fighting to turn it around, but I don’t know what changes to make at this point.”
The Twins finally got to Iwakuma in the fifth. Justin Morneau hit a leadoff double, ending the 42-consecutive batter streak, and Matt Carson hit an RBI single that inning. But Iwakuma escaped by retiring Trevor Plouffe, Pedro Florimon and Darin Mastroianni.
“We battled,” Gardenhire said. “He just made some pitches. We chased the splitter a couple times in the dirt.”