"It's as good as we've seen all year," according to manager Joe Girardi.
Hernandez was the whole story in Seattle's two-hit shutout win, as he one-upped teammate Cliff Lee's complete-game victory from the night before. The Yankees at least scored against Lee.
They had no such luck against the man they call King Felix. Like Lee before him, Hernandez sliced through the Yankees' lineup with a seemingly effortless efficiency. Not only did the Yankees not score off him, they had nary a threat in nine innings. The American League's leaders in on-base percentage got just five men on all night; only two reached on hits, and one of those was a bloop double that Chone Figgins lost in the lights.
"It was the best pure stuff that Felix has shown in a game," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said.
The Yankees couldn't disagree. Their best threat came in the opening inning, when Derek Jeter walked and moved to third on a wild pitch and passed ball. After Hernandez walked Alex Rodriguez with two outs, Robinson Cano's fly ball to left field was snared on a leap by Michael Saunders. No other Yankee reached third.
"That was about it for our chances," said Girardi.
To be fair, Mark Teixeira did lead off the fourth with a double to right field. Hernandez struck out Rodriguez before inducing another flyout from Cano and a weak grounder to first from Jorge Posada to strand Teixeira. An inning later, Curtis' one-out popup eluded the eyesight of Figgins, dropping for a double. Again, Hernandez got out of it, this time with a Francisco Cervelli popup and Jeter grounder to the mound.
Hernandez had the Yankees flailing all night at any and all of his five different pitches. They swung over his sinker, early at his changeup and late at his fastball. They were fooled by his curveball and couldn't touch his slider.
"Everything was," Hernandez replied when asked what worked for him. "Everything. Everything. I threw a lot of curveballs, slider was good, fastball was pretty good, too. The four-seamer and two-seamer. Everything was good."
Hernandez's 11 strikeouts were the most recorded by a starter against the Yankees since August 2008, when A.J. Burnett punched out 13 Bombers. He and Lee became the first pair of teammates to toss back-to-back complete games against the Yankees since Chris Carpenter and Kelvim Escobar turned the trick for the Blue Jays in April 2000.
Hernandez's dominance rendered Javier Vazquez's work on the mound largely irrelevant. Once Vazquez surrendered a leadoff home run to Milton Bradley in the second on an 0-2 changeup, the Mariners had all the runs they would need. Saunders led off the third with a solo shot to right on what Vazquez deemed a "terrible pitch," and Jose Lopez added a two-out RBI single later in the frame.
After his horrendous start to the year and fantastic recovery, Vazquez has seemed to find an acceptable middle ground. He reached the minimum requirements of a quality start on Wednesday, allowing the three earned runs on six hits in six innings. He walked two and struck out eight.
"A lot of times, three runs in six innings will win a lot of games. Not tonight. Not against Felix," Girardi said. "He limited the damage, but Felix was so good."
"When you go ahead against guys like that, you try to limit the opposition as much as you can because you know a couple runs can be the game," Vazquez said.
The Mariners added some eventually unnecessary insurance on a pair of two-run homers off the Yankees' bullpen. Damaso Marte served one up to Russell Branyan in the seventh, and Saunders tagged Chad Gaudin in the eighth for his first career two-homer game.
And so the Yankees tipped their cap to Hernandez the same way they did to Lee on Tuesday. At the same time, they looked forward to breaking out a bit to avoid the sweep on Thursday afternoon.
"Tomorrow is a new day," Swisher said. "We've got to take out some aggression."