ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.– Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon need just one word to describe another great start by Felix Hernandez.
Hernandez pitched a four-hitter Wednesday to become the major’s first eight-game winner by beating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-0. But he needed teammate Nelson Cruz to hit his AL-best 18th homer to break a scoreless tie in the ninth inning and complete the Mariners’ three-game sweep of the Rays.
“What a performance,” McClendon said. “I don’t know what to say.”
Hernandez (8-1) got four double plays in his second shutout this season. He struck out eight and walked one in his first win at Tropicana Field after going 0-2 in four previous starts.
Brad Boxberger (2-3) relieved Chris Archer after he pitched two-hit ball for eighth innings, and Boxberger walked Seth Smith and Robinson Cano with two outs.
Cruz then made it 3-0 on a long home run that landed in a center-field 10,000 gallon fish tank that is home to a group of cownose rays. It was just the fourth homer into the tank since 2007.
“Three-run homers, they’re not bad,” McClendon said. “Makes you feel pretty good.”
Cruz has hit six of his homers with Hernandez pitching. “I love that guy,” Hernandez said.
Seattle (23-23) reached the .500 mark for the first time since April 12.
Archer tied a career high with 12 strikeouts for the Rays, who have lost five in a row. The righthander had stretches where he retired 12 and 11 batters in a row.
“It was a really good game,” Hernandez said. “That was tough competition.”
“I can’t say enough about their young starter,” McClendon said. “[Archer] was tremendous.”