Talk about a “perfect” promotion.
On Tuesday night, six days after Mariners right-hander Felix Hernandez raised his arms to celebrate the first perfect game in franchise history, more than 39,000 fans came to pay tribute to the rare feat.
It was a colorful tribute, shall we say.
As every Mariners fan knows, every time Felix pitches at Safeco Field, there is an area in the left field corner dubbed “King’s Court”. Nearly 800 fans, dressed in bright yellow T-shirts and matching “K” cards, have a rockin’ good time.
On this night, however, “King’s Court” became “Supreme Court”. A much larger crowd than had been expected before Felix pitched the game of his life, attended the middle game of a three-game series against the Indians. Prior to the perfecto, slightly less than 12,000 tickets had been purchased for the game.
But Felix’s gem on Wednesday became an instant crowd producer for his next start and the Mariners’ marketing department was somehow able to get 34,000 (Felix’s number is 34) T-shirts produced in about four days.
It was difficult to find anyone in the place on Tuesday night not wearing a yellow T-shirt and holding one of the “K” cards. The atmosphere was unlike anything I have seen during a regular season when the team was not contending for a playoff berth.
Even Fredy Montero of the MSL Sounders got into the act.
The ceremonial first-pitch thrower wore a Mariners jersey for the toss and then removed it, displaying his own “King of Perfection” T-shirt.
As Montero departed, the King entered from the left field bullpen. The fans stood and cheered loudly as Felix sauntered in the from ‘pen, accompanied by pitching coach Carl Willis and catcher John Jaso
Finally, Felix took off his cap and waved to the crowd.
“It was unbelievable,” Felix said later. “I got chills.”
But drama didn’t wear yellow on this night.
Chants of “Let’s Go Felix!” began before the first pitch – a strike to Jason Kipnis. Strike two elicited louder cheers. But the third pitch of the game was hit sharply on the ground, past a diving first baseman Justin Smoak for a single into right field.
There would be no no-no – or perfecto – and Felix would have to settle for a streak of 32 consecutive batters retired – the 27 Rays last Wednesday and five Angels in his previous start. It was the second-longest streak in franchise history, a record (33) still held by right-hander John Montaguer in 1977. Felix also has the 13th longest in MLB history.
The staff ace departed to a standing ovation with two outs in the eighth inning, having allowed seven hits and one earned run, that coming on a bad-hop single in the seventh inning, turning a potential inning-ending DP into a run-scoring single.
His walkoff included a cap-waving salute to fans wearing yellow. It was a 360-degree salute.
I asked him after the game if yellow was his favorite color. He smiled and said, “It is now.”