SEATTLE — The final result, 27 consecutive batters trudging back from the plate with not a thing to show for it, was amazingly familiar as the Rays, for the third time in four seasons, had a perfect game thrown against them.
But in the quiet aftermath of Felix Hernandez's perfection in a 1-0 Wednesday loss to the Mariners, they acknowledged they'd never seen anything like that.
"The most impressive (of the games) because of how overpowering he was," Carlos Peña said. "That was a dominating performance right there."
"On par with anything I've ever seen," Evan Longoria said. "He was able to make pitches in any count."
"This stuff," manager Joe Maddon said, "is prodigious."
Hernandez threw the 23rd perfect game in major-league history and the record third this season, and he really wasn't challenged.
He struck out 12, went to only three three-ball counts and allowed only a couple of hard-hit balls, working in sync with former Rays catcher John Jaso, getting better as the game went on and the Safeco Field crowd of 21,889 roared. After getting Sean Rodriguez looking at strike three for the final out, Hernandez raised both arms in celebration.
"It's always on my mind. Every game I need to throw a perfect game. Every pitcher thinks that," Hernandez said. "But today it happened, and it's something special. I don't have any words to explain this. This is pretty amazing. It doesn't happen every day."
It only seems like it does to the Rays, who became the first team in major-league history to have three perfect games thrown against them in regular-season play (also by Chicago's Mark Buehrle in 2009 and Oakland's Dallas Braden in 2010), and all in a span of 507 games. Of baseball's past 15 no-hitters, four have been against the Rays. And no team has more no-hitters against than their five since their 1998 debut.
Maddon said one benefit of the experience is he has no fear of lingering effects: "I think the one thing I've learned is that the no-hitters and perfect games don't mean anything about tomorrow anyway."
But as other Rays headed out for a flight to Anaheim, where the Angels have four All-Star starters lined up to face them beginning tonight, there was some concern of a carryover, especially after the Rays, who dropped to 63-54, gave away Tuesday night's game on an error by Peña in the ninth to snap a seven-game winning streak and, as Longoria suggested, didn't show much in Wednesday's matinee.
"We have to find a way to turn the page and really focus on (tonight)," Longoria said. "Regardless of (Wednesday), perfect game, it doesn't matter; it's still a loss. We're 4-2 (on the road trip) and going to Anaheim, and we're going to face another four tough pitchers in a row. If we dwell on (Wednesday) and the last two days, we could easily get steamrolled there."
Hernandez did them in with an assortment of pitches equally baffling, going away from the fastball the Rays were looking for as the game went on and making increasing use of his breaking balls and changeup.
"He introduced all his other goodies, and that's when it got kind of ugly," Maddon said.
Hernandez gave credit for the pitch-calling to Jaso, whom the Rays traded due to his inadequacies behind the plate. "I've been on the Rays before, I know their approach against Felix," Jaso said. "It's to hit that fastball and hit it early."
The mix left the Rays even worse off. "It just seemed like every pitch you thought he was going to throw at a certain point, it was the other pitch," Longoria said.
Hernandez also had some help — from the bright day, which made it tough to pick up spin on his pitches; from Maddon, whose lineup excluded the Rays' top hitter, Jeff Keppinger, and hottest hitter, Desmond Jennings; from the Rays' hitters, who swung at too many pitches out of the strike zone, lured by the deception Hernandez has in making his offspeed pitches look similar.
And, at least from the Rays' view, he had help from home plate umpire Rob Drake, whose increasingly widening strike zone made a difficult challenge more so.
"Some of us had to maybe swing at some pitches we didn't want to," B.J. Upton said. "Some of the guys thought maybe some weren't strikes; maybe some of them were. I think we got a lot of the same reactions from a couple of the guys."
Rodriguez called it "a pitcher-favorable strike zone." Maddon used a few more colorful words during the seventh inning, getting ejected by Drake, then sprinting onto the field to further share his views.
His biggest complaint?
"The largesse vs. the left-handed hitter. I thought it was a big zone," he said. "The thing I think sometimes umpires forget is it's not about punching hitters out, it's about what you make them swing at sometimes. When you start expanding huge to one side or the other vs. a righty or a lefty, then you cause them to swing at pitches that they don't normally swing at."
But even when the Rays swung at the right pitches, they couldn't do much. Sam Fuld had their two hardest-hit balls, a drive to right-center to start the game and a liner to third.
"(Hernandez is) one of the best pitchers in the game, and he's pitching probably as well as he's ever pitched," Fuld said. "That's a tough combo."
By the numbers
3 Three-ball counts on Rays hitters
3 Perfect games against the Rays, making them the first team to have that many thrown against them in the regular season
4 No-hitters against the Rays since 2009, making them the only team to be no-hit more than once over that span
5 No-hitters against the Rays since their first season in 1998, most of any team in that span