There's no one else the Seattle Mariners would rather have on the mound in a must-win game than Felix Hernandez, their unquestioned ace who is in the mix for his second AL Cy Young Award.
Sure, even a victory Sunday won't guarantee Game 163 for the Mariners or the honor for Hernandez, but they're thankful just be in their current position as they prepare to face the Los Angeles Angels.Seattle (86-75) stayed alive for the second wild card with Saturday's 2-1, 11-inning victory. Just as Logan Morrison tied the score with an RBI double in the seventh, Oakland fell 5-4 to Texas to make for an interesting scenario heading into Sunday.A Mariners win and Athletics loss would force a one-game playoff between the clubs Monday at Safeco Field for the right to play either Kansas City or Detroit in Tuesday's wild-card game.Hernandez will throw Sunday's first pitch an estimated one hour and five minutes after the A's begin their contest in Texas. An Oakland victory would send it to the playoffs no matter the result in Seattle."The only thing that we can control is what we do," said Lloyd McClendon, who is in his first season managing the Mariners."We've put ourselves in a real good position. We have to hope Oakland loses, but we're playing a meaningful game in 162 and I think that speaks volumes about this club and the direction in which we're heading."Having Hernandez (14-6, 2.18 ERA) on the mound should give the Mariners even more confidence. Hernandez has a chance to claim the AL's ERA title after the league office overturned a hit call to a fielding error on the right-hander in Tuesday's 10-2 loss to Toronto, wiping four earned runs off his total.It still wound up being the worst outing of the season for Hernandez, who gave up eight runs in 4 2/3 innings. Still, McClendon is excited to have his ace on the mound in such an important contest."I expect Felix to be Felix," McClendon said. "I expect him to do the best that he can for as long as he can. We'll see what happens. All I know is we're still throwing punches."Hernandez isn't taking the opportunity to win the ERA title lightly. He barely trails Chris Sale, who has a 2.17 mark."I'm always thinking about it every year," he told MLB's official website. "Every year I'm trying to be one of the best in the league. I've got one more (start). I've got to do it."Hernandez has been stellar against AL West-champion Los Angeles this season, going 2-0 with a 0.94 ERA in four starts. He's struck out 40 Angels in 28 2/3 innings after fanning 11 while pitching seven scoreless innings of Seattle's 3-1 victory Sept. 18.Los Angeles (98-63) has been resting most of its regulars since clinching the division title and has dropped four of six. It will send Cory Rasmus to the mound for his sixth start, though the bullpen likely will get plenty of work.Rasmus (3-1, 2.38) hasn't pitched more than four innings in any of his starts, tossing exactly that many while allowing one hit and striking out four in the Angels' 13-2 loss to the Mariners on Sept. 16.The right-hander again pitched four innings last Sunday, giving up two hits in a 2-1 loss to Texas. He made his first 24 appearances out of the bullpen, including throwing 2 1/3 scoreless innings against Seattle in a 3-2 win July 18.