SEATTLE -- Safeco Field's first "Supreme Court" of 2014 returned its verdict on Friday night, and the decision was unanimously in favor of Felix Hernandez as the Mariners topped the A's, 6-4.
The Mariners continued their tradition of expanding the normal "King's Court" section for Hernandez's starts at Safeco into a stadium-wide celebration of yellow-shirted fans waving "K" cards for his first home appearance of the season, and they had plenty to cheer for as The King struck out 11 in a dominating four-hit, two-run performance over seven-plus frames.
A crowd of 38,968 enjoyed the festivities -- which included three hits by Dustin Ackley and home runs by Brad Miller and catcher Mike Zunino -- and Hernandez delivered one of his gems as the Mariners improved to 6-3, tying for the third-best record after nine games in franchise history.
"The crowd was awesome," Hernandez said. "It was unbelievable. It was really good. I had to throw a good game. There were a lot of people here. If you throw a bad game, it's not gonna be good."
But Hernandez was good again, as he has been in all three of his starts this year. The 28-year-old ace has half of his team's victories, with a 3-0 record and 2.11 ERA. It is the first time in Hernandez's 10-year Major League career that he has won his first three starts, and he is now 17-7 with a 2.60 ERA in 31 career outings against the A's.
He has already beaten the A's twice this season, allowing three runs and 10 hits with one walk and 19 strikeouts over 15 1/3 innings.
"He was getting a low fastball for a strike, which makes him doubly effective," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. "He's getting the bottom of the zone, now he throws the changeup off of that. He was throwing some changeups at 90 mph today, with a 94-mph fastball. He was really good again. You just try to hold on and wear him out and get him out of the game and try to beat somebody else."
Seattle now sits half a game ahead of the 6-4 A's atop the early American League West standings heading into Saturday evening's middle game in the weekend series.
Hernandez on Friday evening didn't give up a hit until one out into the fourth, never walked a batter and reached double-digit strikeouts for the 28th time in his career and second this season. His 25 starts with 10-plus strikeouts since the start of the 2009 season are the second most in baseball during that span, behind only Cliff Lee's 26.
"I was able to catch him a handful of times last year and some this spring, but this is the best I've seen him look," catcher Mike Zunino said. "Just with all his stuff and his stamina on the mound. It just seems like he's getting stronger. Hopefully we can keep that up and build on that throughout the year."
Oakland didn't touch Hernandez until the eighth, when he hit Daric Barton and gave up a single to Eric Sogard. Manager Lloyd McClendon went to his bullpen with Hernandez at 104 pitches, and both his runners scored after relievers Lucas Luetge, Danny Farquhar and Charlie Furbush came on and split two walks, a single and a wild pitch among them as the A's cut the lead to 6-4.
New closer Fernando Rodney came on in the ninth for his third save, overcoming a leadoff double to pinch-hitter John Jaso by recording a groundout and two strikeouts to send the crowd home happy.
The Mariners jumped out early against A's lefty Tommy Milone with three hits and a run on his first three pitches.
Abraham Almonte led off with a double, moved to third on Miller's perfect drag-bunt single and then scored when Robinson Cano laced a hard grounder that Barton couldn't field cleanly at first base. Cano was 2-for-4 on the day and is batting .324.
That quick start set a welcome tone after the Mariners had managed just one hit in Wednesday's 2-0 loss to the Angels.
"Obviously Felix is the great equalizer when we've got him out there," Miller said. "But yeah, Abe hops on the first pitch, and we get something going. We put the pressure on him a little bit, and that was huge, coming out swinging like that."
Seattle took advantage of two infield errors in the fourth to add two unearned runs for a 3-0 lead, helped by an Ackley double and Zunino base hit.
But they brought out the power in the sixth as Zunino ended Milone's night with a two-run shot to left for his second homer of the year, and Miller followed with a solo blast off reliever Drew Pomeranz for his third long ball in 2014, tying Corey Hart for the team lead.
Miller's shot carried 406 feet, an impressive poke to dead center that carried on a chilly night.
"Chicken Man's got pretty good power," McClendon said. "When they make mistakes, he can really hit a ball pretty good. That really didn't surprise me. I've seen him do it in the spring, and I saw him do it in Anaheim on a cold night, so it didn't really surprise me."
The young shortstop will take the nickname and the home run, which carried over center fielder Sam Fuld's head.
"I think that was all I had," Miller said. "I was just hoping Fuld wasn't going to go up and take that one back in. But yeah, I guess the Chicken Man is my name now. That's fine. That's totally fine."
Ackley went 3-for-4 with a double and two runs scored to pace Seattle's 12-hit night, and he became the first Mariner with a three-hit game this year as he raised his average to .286.