The King holds court on Opening Night in Oakland

Felix Hernandez lets out a little emotion after escaping an eighth-inning jam. (Getty Images/Jed Jacobsohn)

Just when you wondered what Felix Hernandez would need to do to top last year’s Cy Young season, the man rolls out an Opening Night gem that reminds us that, seriously, he really is getting better.

This wasn’t the greatest game Hernandez has ever thrown. He’s had better stuff. He’s been less-hittable. But coming straight out of the gate and throwing a nine-inning, complete-game victory?

Never been done by a Mariner. Rarely been done by anybody, matter of fact. According to the Mariners research, it was the first complete-game, nine-inning effort by an American League pitcher since Bartolo Colon in 2002. And the first complete-game win with no walks since Rich Rhoden in 1988.

That’s some fine twirling, without question. The only previous Mariner to pitch a complete game on Opening Day was Mark Langston, who went eight innings in a 3-2 loss to Oakland in ’89.

The longest prior Opening Day start by any Mariners pitchers was 8 1/3 innings by Mike Moore in 1984 and Erik Hanson in ’91.

So those are the fun facts. And the bottom line is that Felix Hernandez was special on Friday night, special enough to overcome a shaky early start and 38 pitches through two innings and get the A’s to go quietly for the rest of the night and allow him to finish his work with 108 pitches and enough left in the tank that manager Eric Wedge didn’t even get anybody up in the bullpen.

That is one way to overcome concerns about a shaky relief staff. There’ll be plenty of time for those worries ahead. For now, enjoy the greatness of Felix and the fact that on every fifth day, the Mariners trot out a guy who is as good as anybody in the American League.

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