Bird vs. Magic. Manning vs. Brady. In the realm of sports, a clash between two outstanding athletes is something to be cherished.
And Wednesday’s pitching matchup is one of those bouts you don’t see every day. Yu Darvish pitching against Felix Hernandez.
It’s Pacquiao vs. Mayweather, but in a much more sensical world where people don’t have to pay to watch it on TV. And, barring a Robin Ventura vs. Nolan Ryan recreation, no punches will be thrown at Globe Life Park.
But it’s a matchup that features two greats of the game. Two hurlers who are masters of their craft. It’s one of those games where one might expect a line of zeroes across the scoreboard, and actually be okay with it.
Except neither pitcher has been particularly dominant against his opponent tonight. Each of Wednesday’s starters is capable of throwing a gem, but each has been prone to the opposite against his respective opponent.
Hernandez is 12-20 with a 4.18 ERA in 39 career games against the Rangers. That’s his third-worst ERA mark against any single opponent.
Darvish enters the game with a 3-3 record against Seattle and a less-than-stellar 4.78 earned run average. Albeit a small sample size, the Mariners are one of few teams Darvish hasn’t found success against. His strikeout-per-walk ratio against the M’s is lower than his mark against any other team.
Rangers manager Ron Washington said his team’s success against Hernandez is simply a result of knowing him better than a lot of pitchers.
“I’ve been here seven years, I think we’ve seen Felix thirty times,” Washington said. “Every time we face Seattle we see Felix.”
Well, there’s a method to his madness. it has been 31 times in the last seven years that Felix has squared off with Texas, and the 39 total games are more than Felix has pitched against any other team. Elvis Andrus is the most experience Ranger facing Hernandez. He has a .299 batting average against him in 74 career plate appearances.
Washington said no matter how many times you face Felix, he's going to be difficult.
“Nobody’s going to figure Felix out, he’s that good of a pitcher. I just think we’ve seen him a lot. For a long time he had success against us and last year we had some success against him.”
The Rangers may have come as close as anyone to figuring him out. Texas accumulated 23 runs and 44 hits in just 27.1 innings against King Felix in 2013.
Ranger first baseman Prince Fielder, who hit his first home run of the season Tuesday, said his approach is no different no matter who is on the mound.
“Every night I want to have the best night possible, no matter who’s pitching,” Fielder said. “To me, everybody is an ace. I just want to do whatever I can to help my team win.”
Prince actually has more career at-bats against his own team’s starter than he does against Hernandez. He’s 0-for-5 with four strikeouts in six career at-bats against the Mariner righty. This, of course, is his first year in Arlington, so maybe his luck will change with “Texas” across his chest.
“Hopefully just get a mistake,” he said. “He doesn’t throw many, obviously. If he throws one, hopefully I don’t miss it.”
Prince is right -- Felix doesn’t throw many mistakes. At least not against any other team in the league.
Felix and Yu’s résumés make it clear that it’s Ace vs. Ace. But their splits against Wednesday’s opponent have been a loaded deck.