By Robert Dominguez
He was king of the hill for over a decade. But Felix Hernandez’s long reign as one of the AL’s top pitchers ended just about the time he entered his thirties, as injuries to the golden right arm that made him a perennial Cy Young candidate took its toll.
From 2005 through 2015, when the Seattle Mariners ace was in his glorious prime, he posted a 143-101 record with an impressive 3.11 ERA in the power-packed, DH-rule American League — all before his 30th birthday.
To put it simply: Hall of Fame-bound numbers.
On this day in béisbol, May 10, 2015, King Felix reached a regal milestone while at the height of his powers. Facing Oakland A’s outfielder Sam Fuld at Safeco Field in Seattle in the top of the fifth inning, the hard-throwing righty struck him out looking for his 2,000th career K.
The Valencia, Venezuela native was the fourth-youngest pitcher to reach the mark, with only Walter Johnson and Bert Blyleven — both Hall of Famers — and Sam McDowell doing it at a younger age.
It was one of the last great moments for Hernandez, who would finish the season with an 18-9 record but spend the next four injury-plagued years struggling to find the form that had him on the road to Cooperstown.
In 2020, after 15 years in Seattle where he came up as a 19-year-old rookie, Hernandez, still only 33, signed with the Atlanta Braves as a spring training invitee. He had a couple of positive outings before MLB put the season on pause due to the pandemic, stalling Hernandez’s chance to regain his throne.
Robert Dominguez is co-author of “Bronx Bummers: The Unofficial History of the New York Yankees’ Bad Boys, Blunders and Brawls” and writer of the upcoming “El Salón: The Trials and Triumphs of Baseball’s Latino Hall of Famers.”
Photo: Chase N. — Under Creative Commons License. Cropped.