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CLE@SEA: Felix fans five over 7 2/3 strong innings

SEATTLE -- The Mariners didn't need Felix Hernandez to be perfect Tuesday night, but he was awfully good once again. Good enough, it turns out, to pitch Seattle to its seventh straight win, 5-1, over the Indians on a festive night at Safeco Field.

With a sea of yellow-shirted supporters cheering on his first performance since last Wednesday's perfect game against the Rays, Hernandez held Cleveland to one run on seven hits over 7 2/3 innings as Seattle improved to 14-1 over its past 15 home games and 60-64 overall.

"That was unbelievable. That was some great stuff right there," Hernandez said after being serenaded all night by a crowd of 39,204 wearing "King of Perfection" shirts and waving "K" cards. "I couldn't be happier for the fans. That was on my mind, just to throw a good game for these guys, make good pitches and win this game. And we did."

Hernandez said he got "chills" when he saw the growing throng of fans who came out to celebrate his perfect performance and see what happened next for the soaring Seattle club.

"That's the best game I've ever pitched in at Safeco Field," he said. "In front of these guys, the crowd was unbelievable and they're yelling 'Felix, Felix.' That's something special."

"It was electric out there," said manager Eric Wedge. "There was a lot of emotion, especially for Felix. One of my concerns was how he'd handle that with all that led up to this. But to no one's surprise, he handled it beautifully."

Rookie designated hitter Jesus Montero provided the cushion with a three-run blast off the upper-deck facade in left field to cap a four-run outburst in the seventh as Seattle broke loose from a 1-1 tie against reliever Esmil Rogers.

"That was the pitch I was looking for," Montero said of his 13th home run of the season. "He threw me three sliders. I was seeing a slider the whole time and he end up pitching in the middle and I found it. I was surprised because the ball took off so quick. I was like, 'Where's the ball?' and it was in the stands."

The late offense helped Hernandez improved to 12-5 with a 2.54 ERA as he continued a spectacular midseason stretch. The Mariners ace is 8-0 with a 1.53 ERA over his last 13 starts, striking out 95 with 16 walks in 100 innings.

Hernandez's string of perfection lasted just two pitches in this one before leadoff hitter Jason Kipnis drove an 0-2 pitch past diving first baseman Justin Smoak for a base hit.

That ended Hernandez's string of 32 straight batters retired over the previous two games, one shy of the Mariners' franchise record of 33 by John Montague in 1977 and 13 shy of Mark Buehrle's Major League record of 45 established in 2009 with the White Sox.

"I know there are all these expectations and stuff going into the game and the first hitter gets a hit, but it didn't faze him," said catcher John Jaso. "That's just the guy he is. None of this gets to his head. All this excitement, he's just a guy that is going to enjoy it."

With his "Supreme Court" crowd chanting and cheering every strike, the 26-year-old Venezuelan tightroped out of trouble with a double-play grounder in the first and later retired 12 straight batters before giving up three straight singles and a run in the seventh.

That tied the game at 1 and Hernandez made matters worse by throwing the ball into center field trying to pick off Michael Brantley, putting runners at first and third with one out. But Brent Lillibridge didn't get a bunt down on a squeeze attempt and Brantley was caught in a rundown. Hernandez then struck Lillibridge out for the third out to keep the tie intact.

The Mariners then broke things open with an RBI ground-rule double by Jaso, followed by Montero's 438-foot blast for his 13th home run of the season.

Eric Thames had given the Mariners a 1-0 lead with a home run in the fifth, the first hit Seattle managed off Indians right-hander Roberto Hernandez.

It was Thames' third home run since being acquired in a July 30 trade from Toronto and second in the past two games. The 25-year-old has flourished at Safeco Field, with Tuesday's 1-for-3 outing lifting his batting average to .407 (11-for-27) at his new home field.

The Indians knew what they were up against in this one with Hernandez following up his perfect performance in an electric atmosphere.

"Other than the 35,000 fans wearing the Felix shirts, it's kind of hard not to notice it," said Lillibridge. "He fared a lot better than my buddy Phil Humber after his perfect game. Obviously, Felix is Felix. He's going to go out there with great stuff every game and compete."

The Mariners supported their ace with some outstanding defense as well. Trayvon Robinson made an excellent diving catch down the left-field line of a sinking line drive by Casey Kotchman leading off the fifth, grabbing the ball just as he slid into a faceful of dirt just inside fair territory.

Dustin Ackley also saved a run in the eighth with a diving stop and flip to shortstop Brendan Ryan after Lucas Luetge replaced Hernandez with runners on first and third with two outs.

The Mariners have the best record in the AL since the All-Star break at 24-13 and are gunning for their fourth sweep in their past eight series in Wednesday afternoon's finale with the Indians.

"It's fun baseball right now and we're starting to get that feeling that Wedge was looking for out of us the last couple years, coming to the field expecting to win," said Ryan. "That's the vibe in the clubhouse and everybody is having fun and feeding off each other. It's just a real good feeling we've got going right now."

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