One year later: Felix’s perfect day still shines

Tampa Bay Rays v Seattle Mariners

ST. PETERSBURG – Exactly one year after throwing his first perfect game, Felix Hernandez is asked what has changed for him since that historic day at Safeco Field.

“I don’t know. You tell me?” Hernandez says with a grin. “I don’t know. I’m the same guy.”

The Mariners ace indeed seems to have remained the same hard-working, fun-loving character in the wake of that 1-0 perfecto on Aug. 15, 2012 against the Rays. But things have changed around him.

Of the nine position players who started alongside Hernandez that day, only four will be in the lineup against the same Rays squad on Thursday evening at Tropicana Field as Seattle closes out a three-game set.

First baseman Justin Smoak and third baseman Kyle Seager are still in their same positions, while center fielder Michael Saunders is now playing left while Dustin Ackley was penciled into center Thursday after playing second base a year ago in the perfect game.

The rest of the Mariners from that day? Shortstop Brendan Ryan is still on the team, but didn’t start Thursday. Designated hitter Jesus Montero is still in the organization, but not with the Major league club. Gone completely are catcher John Jaso, left fielder Trayvon Robinson and right fielder Eric Thames.

Hernandez’s own memory remains perfectly intact, of course.

“I don’t know if anything was different than usual, but I felt pretty good,” he said. “It was just one of those days, you know? Everybody was in the right position. It was the right day, I made the right pitches. That was a perfect day.”

As the zeroes mounted on the sunny afternoon at Safeco, Hernandez allowed himself to begin thinking about something special happening midway through the game.

“Like in the fourth and fifth inning, I was just thinking about, ‘I have a no-hitter going, you know?’” he said. “But there’s a lot of game left and you’ve got to make good pitches. My stuff was working. I had the breaking ball working and my changeup was good. It was one of those days.”

Manager Eric Wedge isn’t with the team now either, continuing to recover at home from a minor stroke that has sidelined him since June 22. Acting manager Robby Thompson was the bench coach that day, however, and he looks back fondly on the event as well.

“How can you not?” Thompson said. “Watching that game and having that knot in your gut, waiting for that last out. Any time Felix takes the mound, he’s got a chance to do that. There are several guys throughout the league that legitimately have that chance to throw a no-hitter or perfect game. So nothing surprises me, but perfect games and few and far between. That was a day we’ll all remember.”

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