King Felix could crown Yankees

NEW YORK -- Mariners ace Felix Hernandez smiled cheerily at his locker inside Yankee Stadium's road clubhouse. He styled, sporting his faux Mohawk with its Mr. T middle surrounded by short, cropped hair. Two large diamond earrings shone from his ears.

From his chin, a small goatee hung down. If he were in the home clubhouse, it would have to go.

"I know," Hernandez said of the Yankees' anti-facial hair policy. "That's why I'm not coming here."

King Felix laughed.

Hernandez, just 25, is the type of guy the Yankees dream about. They need a starter to team with CC Sabathia to get them through October.

Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon have pitched well enough to get the Yankees to October, but can they keep it up for three more months?

Colon might be able to miss bats in the late fall, but Garcia's mid-to-high 80s stuff usually doesn't translate then.

"There have been a lot of guys who have won a lot of games in the postseason that haven't lit up the radar gun," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said, defending Garcia's October potential. "The bottom line is, if you make your pitches, you are going to be successful."

On Monday, Garcia stayed prepared during a nearly two-hour rain delay before finessing the Mariners to death and sending Seattle to its 16th straight loss.

"They've lost, what, 16 in a row?" Garcia said. "I didn't want to be the one."

Garcia is 9-7. His ERA is 3.23. At 34, he is the perfect guy to take advantage of an impossibly bad-hitting team like the Mariners and push the Yankees to a season-best 20 games over .500 (60-40).

"They made my job easy when they started to swing the bat first pitch," Garcia said.

Nearly a decade ago, Hernandez idolized the man known as "The Chief" in Seattle.

Both Venezuelans, Hernandez remembers that shortly after being signed as a 16-year-old, he went to Safeco and looked up in awe at the 6-foot-4 Garcia.

The two are now good friends, but Hernandez swears they have not discussed what it would be like for him to come to the Bronx -- although they are supposed to have dinner one of these nights, so maybe it will come up.

The Mariners, for their part, have given no indications that they would be willing to trade Hernandez. He's 25 and a star; why would they?

Hernandez could be worth the "Herschel Walker"-type trade the Rockies want in exchange for Ubaldo Jimenez. If the Yankees could offer one of their Double-A Killer-B's (Dellin Betances or Manuel Banuelos), Jesus Montero and any two other minor league starters not named Ivan Nova and tempt Seattle, they should do it.

From the Mariners' perspective, it doesn't make sense. Hernandez might be just 8-9 with a 3.47 ERA, but his dominant stuff is made for October. You shouldn't trade those type of guys when they are 25.

If the Yankees were to deal for the Dodgers' Hiroki Kuroda, he might be a postseason upgrade. Kuroda has a National League-worst 12 losses, but that is due to 2.85 runs of support per game, the lowest average in the league. His ERA is barely over 3.00.

As Hernandez talked with a couple of New York reporters before Monday's game, he was jovial. He said he didn't think he would be traded.

"Not yet," Hernandez said. "I'm a Seattle Mariner right now so whatever happens, happens."

That was as far as he would go into speculation. It is out of his hands, he said.

The Mariners have made him rich, and he seems eager to see them through this terrible stretch. He is making $10 million this year. Next season, he jumps to $18.5 million on his way to $20 million by 2014.

That is the one way the Mariners could reason trading Hernandez, who won the Cy Young last year. They could lose 90 to 100 games with him or without him.

At some point, the Mariners might decide to deal him. That point does not appear to be now.

These days, the Yankees must lean on Garcia. He deserves all the credit he has received. But his pitches arrive in the 70-to-80 mph range, which works in July, but not as well in October.

The Mariners are not going to be playing in October. They were the surprise team of 2009, but it has been downhill ever since. Hernandez isn't ready to give in.

"I like it here," Hernandez said. "But it is not in my hands. It is not my decision."

It is not, but the Yankees can only dream about the day Hernandez has to shave.