“I think he was better than when he threw the perfect game.”
-- Rays manager Joe Maddon after Sunday’s game against the Seattle Mariners
Hernandez also experienced a bit of hard luck, since Chris Archer and the Rays' bullpen matched him, preventing him from earning his ninth win. Instead, Hernandez became the third pitcher in the past 25 years to strike out 15, allow no runs and record a no-decision, joining Nolan Ryan and Jake Peavy.
Hernandez now has 26 career no-decisions in games in which he pitched at least seven innings and allowed no runs. That’s the most by any active pitcher (second are Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson with 19) and one shy of the most for any pitcher in the past 20 seasons (Greg Maddux has 27).
Hernandez has a 1.40 ERA in his last five starts, with 46 strikeouts and five walks in 38 2/3 innings pitched.
Better than perfection?
We can take a closer look to see if Maddon’s comment about Hernandez’s stuff being better than in his perfect game two seasons ago rings true from a statistical perspective.
We’ll acknowledge that it’s close, though the perfect game would seem to have an edge based on Hernandez pitching deeper into the game.
Hernandez got 26 swing-and-misses in his perfect game, six more than he got in Sunday's start. Percentage wise, the two were virtually a match in that regard, with Rays hitters missing on 44 percent of their swings in each game.
On Sunday, Hernandez allowed three batted balls that were classified as hard hit, one more than he had in his perfect game, in two fewer innings.
The common bond between the two games was how good Hernandez’s changeup was. On Sunday, he got 13 outs with his changeup, including 10 strikeouts (the only pitcher with more in a game in the past six seasons is Alex Cobb of the Rays with 11). In the perfect game, he recorded seven outs with his changeup, six of them strikeouts.
How they won
The Mariners scored five runs in the ninth inning, with the key to that outburst being base hits that came after falling behind in the count 0-2.
Brad Miller’s triple, Endy Chavez’s go-ahead single and James Jones’ triple against Grant Balfour all came after they went down in the count, 0-2.
Balfour had held opponents to 1-for-19 after getting ahead 0-2 this season prior to those hits. Miller’s hit was impressive, considering that he was 1-for-23 in two-strike situations dating back to May 12.