SEATTLE — The pitcher who earned the title of "King" likely pitched in his final game as a Seattle Mariner Thursday evening.
It was an emotional night for fans, as they reflected on what Félix Hernández has meant to them over the past 15 seasons. Hernández walked off the mound as a Mariner probably for the last time with tears in his eyes.
Hernández, once a young phenom, is at the end of his seven-year $175 million contract.
From the start, this night was a tribute to one of the Mariners' greats, who will be remembered in the same regard as Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez for his loyalty to the franchise and performance on the mound during his best seasons.
The 10,000 fans of the "King's Court," clad in yellow on three levels down the left-field line rose with every two-strike count, chanting, willing, hoping for a Hernández strikeout. It happened for the first time in the second inning when Sean Murphy went down swinging and Hernandez immediately pointed to his court, acknowledging their influence.
With an emotional end to Hernández' time with the Mariners, it's not how anyone would have seen it years ago when he was called up to the majors in 2005 at the age of 19.
Armed with a devastating changeup, Hernández has made six All-Star teams, won the Cy Young Award, and became what many would consider to be the face of the franchise.
In 2012, Hernández pitched a perfect game, the first in Mariners' history. That day, with 21,889 in attendance at then-Safeco Field, Hernández threw the 23rd perfect game in MLB history in a 1-0 win over the Rays. He celebrated his final pitch with what became an iconic stance - a leg raised and his arms thrust upward.
More recently, however, his performance hasn't felt so royal. The 33-year-old has been losing pitch velocity since his mid-20s. He has remained fairly ineffective since he hit 30. Among his health issues: back stiffness, tendinitis, shoulder inflammation, and a strained calf, The Associated Press reported in March.
This season, Mariners management made the decision to end Hernández' 10 consecutive opening day starts - the longest streak in the majors.
During his time with the team, Hernández never pitched in a playoff game. As The Associated Press reported, it was unlikely to happen this season after the team traded away star players.
But despite his hardships, it's unlikely Hernández will fade from the memory of Seattle baseball fans. After all, his ties with the city go deeper than baseball. A year ago Saturday, Hernández became a U.S. citizen along with dozens of others from 36 counties.
When Hernández was asked how the naturalization ceremony compared to his perfect game, he said, "This is tougher than what I do. I don't get nervous when I'm pitching."
He added Seattle was the only place he would want to have the naturalization ceremony.
"I love the city, love Seattle," Hernández said. "Becoming an American here is amazing."