Felix Hernandez (TRADING CARD DB)

September 26, 2019: King Felix reigns for one last night with Mariners

This article was written by Larry DeFillipo

Felix Hernández (TRADING CARD DB)Felix Hernandez, the greatest pitcher in Seattle Mariners history, was past his prime but still a fan favorite when he celebrated his last night as King Felix on September 26, 2019, with 20,921 adoring fans at Seattle’s T-Mobile Park.1 It was an emotional farewell for a pitcher whose 15-year career was filled with dazzling performances but, sadly, not one playoff appearance.

It was in the summer of 2005 that Hernandez joined the last-place Mariners, four years after their record-setting 116-win season that ended shy of the World Series. Dubbed King Felix as a minor leaguer,2 Hernandez was the youngest player in the major leagues when he debuted. Five days later, the 19-year-old Venezuelan became the first teenager in more than 20 years to win a major-league game.3

The legend of King Felix grew from there. In his first season, he crafted a stellar 2.67 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in 12 starts.4 In 2009 Hernandez earned his first All-Star team selection on the way to a 19-5 record, a 2.49 ERA, and a league-leading 7.54 hits per 9 innings.5 The next year, at age 24, he captured the AL Cy Young Award. In August 2012, Hernandez threw the 21st perfect game in modern major-league history.6 Six months later, the Mariners signed Hernandez to a seven-year, $175 million contract, at that time the largest ever for a pitcher.7  

Hernandez rewarded the Mariners and their fans with his third All-Star appearance in 2013 and a fifth consecutive 200-strikeout season. The next year, his league-leading 2.14 ERA and 0.915 WHIP earned him Cy Young runner-up honors (for the second time) and a top-10 finish in MVP voting. But by the fourth year of his contract, 2016, a calf injury limited the King to 25 appearances.8 His ERA ballooned to 4.36 in 2017 and a career worst 5.55 in 2018; back and shoulder problems that landed him on the disabled list multiple times had robbed him of both velocity and command.

Entering the final year of his contract, Hernandez, now 33 years old, was “a shadow of a shell of his former self.” 9 After he was demoted to number-five starter for Seattle’s rebuilding club,10 the Associated Press’s Tim Booth stated the obvious. “It’s clear this will be final season Felix Hernandez wears a Seattle uniform.”11

Hernandez won his first start of the season, and on May 11 fanned Michael Chavis of the Boston Red Sox for his 2,500th career strikeout.12 The next day Hernandez landed on the 10-day injured list with a strained right shoulder,13 not pitching again until late August.

As the Mariners entered their final homestand of the year in late September, anticipation grew for the King’s final start in Seattle.14 Fans looked past his ghastly stat line (1-7, 6.51 ERA) and instead looked forward to one last chance to revel with the King.

On September 26, Seattle hosted the Oakland Athletics in the opener of a four-game season-ending series, with Hernandez tabbed to start. Hernandez reflected on what that day might hold: “I don’t know if I’m going to be emotional. I don’t know if I’m going to be quiet. I don’t know if I’m going to be happy. I don’t know.”15

Hernandez would be facing a team he’d defeated 26 times, more than any other. Eliminated from the American League West Division race, Oakland held a half-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays for the top AL wild-card berth. Opposite Hernandez was Sean Manaea, 3-0 since returning from shoulder surgery that had ended his 2018 season prematurely. Manaea was 5-4 lifetime vs. Seattle.

As Hernandez took the field for pregame warmups, it was evident to the Mariners’ TV broadcast crew that he was “fighting away tears before he even picked up a glove.”16 Once he ascended the mound and finished his warm-up tosses, chants of “Let’s go Felix!” filled the ballpark. Down the left-field line, an expanded King’s Court,17 “10,000 strong and four decks high,”18 was a sea of yellow “Forever the King” T-shirts and bobbing “Thanks/K” signs, with fans in other sections swirling yellow and black King Felix “K-towels.”19

The ballpark stilled as Hernandez, his flat billed cap canted to the left as always, threw his final first pitch, to leadoff batter Marcus Semien: a called strike, delighting the crowd. Hernandez retired Semien, then faced slugger Matt Chapman. In a pattern repeated many times through the night, the crowd chanted “K!K!K!K!” once Hernandez got to two strikes and booed every called ball.

Chapman walked and the next batter, Matt Olson, pulled a 3-and-2 curveball into the right-field corner. After stopping momentarily at third, Chapman raced home as right fielder Kyle Lewis stumbled before throwing the ball to second base. Olson had been kept to a single, but the air had gone out of the ballpark. Within seconds, “Let’s go Felix!” chants began again. After a single by Ramon Laureano and a two-out walk to Jurickson Profar loaded the bases, Hernandez rose to the challenge and induced an inning-ending groundout from Chad Pinder.20

Hernandez spent the bottom of the first pacing the Mariners dugout, then ran into more trouble in the second inning. After fanning Sean Murphy for the second out and his first strikeout of the night, Hernandez walked Semien to bring Chapman to the plate. Chapman deposited the King’s next pitch over the right-center-field wall for a two-run home run.21

Manaea, meanwhile, mowed through the Mariners lineup in the first two innings, helped along by a double-play grounder erasing Kyle Seager after he’d singled to lead off the second inning. Hernandez enjoyed his first one-two-three inning in the third, then had another in the fourth. Seattle got another leadoff single in the third, but Oakland catcher Sean Murphy gunned down Mallex Smith on an attempted steal of second base with two out to end the threat.

Hernandez retired Chapman on a fly to deep center field to start the fifth, then worked his way out of another jam. An error by rookie second baseman Shed Long, a single by Laureano, and walk to Profar after fanning Murphy loaded the bases. After a quick mound visit from manager Scott Servais, Hernandez escaped the inning on left fielder Dylan Moore’s leaping catch of a scorching liner off the bat of Pinder. Hernandez lingered to thank the hustling Moore.

The Mariners cut the lead to 3-1 in their half of the fifth on a leadoff single by Seager and a line drive double into the left-field corner by Austin Nola. Manaea regrouped and retired the next three batters, fanning Domingo Santana and Moore to end the inning.

After five innings, the King was spent but he wasn’t done. He’d thrown 101 pitches, including 30 in the emotional first inning, but he came back out for the sixth, accorded the honor of climbing the mound before his teammates set foot on the diamond. The crowd rose to greet him and he responded with yet another salute to his Court.

Robbie Grossman obligingly flied out to Smith in center field, cueing Servais to come out to get Hernandez. “It’s time,” said Scott. “I’m proud of you and how you’ve handled everything.”22 Hernandez hugged each infielder and his catcher, then strode off the diamond. He doffed his cap to each corner of the ballpark, took a deep bow and wiped the tears from his eyes as he reached the dugout. Chants of “Felix! Felix!” brought him back out for a curtain call. “It is like nothing we will ever see again” said Mariners broadcaster Aaron Goldsmith.23

With fans chanting, “Thank you, Felix,” rookie Brandon Brennan threw the Mariners’ first pitch in the post-Felix era. Brennan and the trio of Seattle relievers who followed him kept Oakland from building on its lead, but it didn’t matter. Manaea worked a clean sixth inning, then gave way to Jesus Luzardo, who worked two perfect innings of his own. A’s closer Liam Hendriks shut the door on the Mariners in the ninth with a pair of strikeouts and a game-ending grounder to first from J.R. Crawford.

“I’ve been here since 2005, and I’ve loved every part of it,” Hernandez told reporters afterward.24 “He shares his emotions on his sleeve,” said Servais. “I think that’s why he’s endeared himself to the fans in the Pacific Northwest.”25 MLB.com’s Michael Clair pointed out that “there aren’t many kings that go out beloved by their subjects.”26 The Seattle Times delivered a bittersweet goodbye. “The Felix Hernandez era, which glimmered with limitless possibilities for the franchise, is over. Sad to say, it’s time.”27

Hernandez finished the night holding the Mariners career records for starts (418), wins (169), innings pitched (2,729⅔), strikeouts (2,524) and pitcher’s WAR (50.3).

Oakland finished the season as the wild-card top seed but lost the AL wild-card game to the Rays.

Hernandez signed a free agent minor-league deal with the Atlanta Braves in January 2020,28 but opted out of the season before it began over COVID concerns.29 The Baltimore Orioles invited him to spring training in 2021 as a nonroster invitee. When he didn’t make the club’s Opening Day roster, Hernandez requested and was granted his release.30


Author’s Note

Celebrating a family birthday, my wife, Kelly, and I attended this game. It was our first trip to T-Mobile Park since we moved to the Pacific Northwest from Virginia. Unaware until the day of the game that it would be the King’s farewell, we found ourselves waving yellow K-towels and hoping for a fairy-tale ending. It didn’t happen but it sure was a night to remember.



This article was fact checked by Ray Danner and copyedited by Len Levin.



In addition to the Sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites for pertinent material and the box scores.





1 The crowd size was less than half of T-Mobile Park’s nearly 48,000 capacity for baseball. T-Mobile Park Information, T-Mobile Park website, https://www.seattlemarinersstadium.com/information/, accessed May 31, 2022.

2 Signed by Seattle as a 16-year-old, Hernandez was a member of the Class A Everett AquaSox when given the moniker after a dominating start in July 2003. Matthew Carruth, “How Did Felix Hernandez Get the Nickname ‘King Felix,’” September 18, 2014, Today I Found Out website, http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2014/09/felix-hernandez-get-nickname-king-felix/, accessed May 19, 2022.

3 Hernandez was 19 years, 123 days old when he pitched eight scoreless innings on August 9 to defeat the Minnesota Twins. Dwight “Doc” Gooden was eight weeks shy of his 20th birthday when he defeated the Montreal Expos on September 23, 1984, for his 17th win that season. Gooden earned the 1984 NL Rookie of the Year Award, receiving 23 of 24 first-place votes.

4 Hernandez’s ERA was more than 1.5 runs lower than those of any of the other five Mariners who started 10 or more games that season.

5 Hernandez finished off 2009, his age-23 season, second to the Kansas City Royals Zack Greinke in AL Cy Young Award voting.

6 Entering the 2022 season, Hernandez’s perfect game remains the most recent one recorded. The nearly 10 years since then have been the longest between major-league perfect games since the 13-year period between Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter’s May 1968 perfect game for the Athletics and that of the Indians’ Len Barker in May 1981.

7 After he signed the contract, the Associated Press reported that Hernandez had no interest in testing the free-agent waters, and Mariners then-GM Jack Zduriencik “was going to make sure his ace never left.” Associated Press, “Felix Hernandez Officially Signs Record-Breaking $175 Million Contract with Mariners,” February 14, 2013, OregonLive website, https://www.oregonlive.com/mlb/2013/02/felix_hernandez_officially_sig.html, accessed May 27, 2022.

8 Alec Nathan, “Felix Hernandez Injury: Updates on Mariners Star’s Calf and Return,” Bleacher Report website, https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2635030-felix-hernandez-injury-updates-on-mariners-stars-calf-and-return, accessed May 27, 2022.

9 Matt Calkins, “Time to Be Stand-Up Guy,” Spokane Spokesman-Review, March 13, 2019: B2.

10 During the offseason, the Mariners elected to part ways with several accomplished veterans they had surrounded Hernandez with in recent years, choosing to rebuild after those acquisitions failed to produce playoff opportunities. Second baseman Robinson Cano was traded to the New York Mets (along with young closer Edwin Diaz), DH Nelson Cruz was lost to the Minnesota Twins in free agency, shortstop Jean Segura was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, starting catcher Mike Zunino was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays, and starting pitcher James Paxton was traded to the New York Yankees. The 2019 Mariners debuted 21 major leaguers, the most of any major-league team that year, in stark contrast to 2018, when they debuted only two, tied for the least of any major-league team that year.

11 Tim Booth (Associated Press), “Whether Step-Back or Rebuild, Mariners Focus In on Future,” Bellingham (Washington) Herald, March 15, 2019: A5.

12 Jessica Camerato, “Felix Reaches 2,500 K’s Before Allowing 7 Runs,” MLB website, May 11, 2029, https://www.mlb.com/news/felix-hernandez-reaches-2-500-strikeouts#:~:text=Felix%20reaches%202%2C500%20K’s%20before%20allowing%207%20runs,-Hernandez%20is%2036th&text=Hernandez%20then%20struck%20out%20Jackie,following%20at-bat%20for%202%2C501.&text=%E2%80%9CFinally%2C%E2%80%9D%20Hernandez%20said, accessed May 19, 2022.

13 Associated Press, “M’s Hernandez Goes on 10-Day Injured List,” Spokane Spokesman-Review, May 13, 2019: B3.

14 Local newspapers highlighted Hernandez’s last scheduled start as a must-watch event for fans of the last-place Mariners. See for example, Lauren Smith, “5 Reasons to Watch Mariners’ Final Homestand of 2019,” The Olympian (Olympia, Washington), September 24, 2019: B1; Tim Booth (Associated Press), “Seattle Farewell for King Felix?” Kitsap (Washington) Sun, September 26, 2019: B1.

15 Booth, “Seattle Farewell for King Felix?” B1.

16 Root Sports telecast, September 26, 2019, mlb.com website, https://www.mlb.com/tv/g566449/v0a4adfe7-ddf3-441d-818d-3bbfeb521474?clickOrigin=Gameday&media_type=video#game_state=live, accessed May 29, 2022.

17 The King’s Court debuted on May 28, 2011, when the Mariners offered fans a package deal of a seat in Section 150, a King T-shirt and K placard for a Hernandez start against the Yankees. At first viewed as a way to fill a largely empty section near the left-field foul pole, the Court’s promotions varied over the years, while its popularity remained high. Seth Kolloen, “The King’s Court,” July 11, 2011, Grantland.com website, https://grantland.com/features/the-king-court/, accessed May 27, 2022; “King’s Court History,” mlb.com website, https://www.mlb.com/mariners/tickets/specials/kings-court-history, accessed May 27, 2022.

18 Lauren Smith, “Farewell to the King,” Tri-City Herald (Pasco, Washington), September 28, 2019: B6.

19 The T-shirts and signs each included an outline of Hernandez’s signature one-foot, raised-arm celebration. The reverse side of the signs and the towels were emblazoned with an oversized black letter K bearing a crown topped with his name, with the angled bottom branch of the K bearing his uniform number (34).

20 Pinder was 1-for-30 (.033) lifetime with the bases loaded prior to this at-bat. His one hit was a grand slam off Toronto’s Tyler Clippard in May 2018.

21 This was Chapman’s second two-run homer in two days. He hit a go-ahead two-run shot in the top of the ninth inning the night before in a come-from-behind 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels.

22 “Farewell to the King.”

23 Root Sports telecast, September 26, 2019.

24 “Farewell to the King.”

25 “Farewell to the King.”

26 Michael Clair, “This Is What It Looks Like When an Entire City Falls in Love,” September 27, 2019, Cut4 website, https://www.mlb.com/cut4/felix-hernandez-s-last-mariners-start-was-a-seattle-lovefest, accessed May 27, 2022.

27 Stone, “Not a Fairy-Tale Ending for King Felix Hernandez and Mariners, but a Necessary One.”

28 His contract reportedly was worth $1 million if he made the Braves’ big-league roster. “Braves Sign Pitcher Felix Hernandez to Minor League Deal,” Atlanta Constitution, January 21, 2020: C1.

29 After putting up a 1.98 ERA with 14 strikeouts in 13⅔ innings during spring training, Hernandez was on the brink of earning a spot in the Braves rotation when the COVID epidemic brought baseball to a standstill. He opted out as the spring-training reboot began in July 2020. Gabriel Burns, “Hernandez Opting Out for the Season,” Atlanta Constitution, July 6, 2020: C4.

30 Hernandez pitched in a handful of spring-training games for Baltimore before leaving a March 16 outing with elbow discomfort. “Hernandez Released by Baltimore Orioles,” Ottawa (Ontario) Citizen, March 30, 2021: NP11; Rich Dubroff (Associated Press), “O’s Enter Year 3 of Rebuild with Modest Hopes,” Salisbury (Maryland) Times, March 20, 2021: B2.

Additional Stats

Oakland A’s 3
Seattle Mariners 1

T-Mobile Park
Seattle, WA


Box Score + PBP:

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