NEW YORK — Once Felix Hernandez tweaked his back, the whole game took an odd twist.
Robinson Cano hit a two-run double, Lyle Overbay delivered a tiebreaking sacrifice fly and the New York Yankees rallied in the seventh inning after King Felix was forced to make an early exit, beating Seattle 4-3 Tuesday night.
“It was hard luck,” Hernandez said.
The Mariners’ ace was in the midst of another top outing at Yankee Stadium, outpitching CC Sabathia in the first matchup between the former Cy Young Award winners and taking a 3-0 lead into the sixth inning.
But with a runner on first and one out, Hernandez fielded a soft comebacker by Curtis Granderson in front of the mound, quickly pivoted and snapped a throw to second base for a forceout.
The swift play, however, came with a price. Hernandez twice kicked his left leg near the mound, trying to get loose, and seemed to say “ouch” a few times. Not a significant setback, yet enough to cause concern.
“He was feeling it,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.
Wedge and a trainer visited Hernandez and left him in. Overbay followed with an RBI double that made it 3-1. After a walk and an inning-ending fly ball, Hernandez was pulled.
“I’m going to be fine,” said Hernandez, adding he’d treat his back with ice. “Nothing serious.”
Wedge said Hernandez, who’s dealt with a stiff back this season, wanted to pitch the seventh.
“I didn’t want to take any chances,” Wedge said. “Under any other circumstances, I’m sending him out there. And I wanted to send him out there.”
Hernandez allowed one earned run and five hits, and leads the AL with a 1.53 ERA.
“We had some chances off him, but he basically did what he usually does. He gets people out when they get on. He even gets better,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Sabathia, who had won his last eight starts against Seattle, struck out 10 in 6 1-3 innings while giving up 10 hits.
Raul Ibanez hit a two-run homer for Seattle in his return to Yankee Stadium. Granderson came off the disabled list and went 0 for 3 with a walk in his season debut.
Down 3-1, the Yankees rallied for three runs in the seventh to win for the seventh time in eight games.
Mariners reliever Yoervis Medina gave up a leadoff single to Chris Nelson, who went to second on a wild pitch. Charlie Furbush (0-2) entered with one out and walked Brett Gardner before Cano tied it with his double off the base of the wall in right-center.
Vernon Wells was intentionally walked, Granderson walked to load the bases and Overbay hit a sac fly to center that put the Yankees ahead.
Shawn Kelley (2-0) got two outs in the seventh. Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth to remain perfect in 16 save chances this season.
Granderson broke his right forearm in his first at-bat of spring training, and the public-address announcer said “Welcome back” when introducing the starting lineups.
Granderson was the first of the injured Yankees’ stars to return to the team. Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez still haven’t played this year.
“It was like another opening day. Nerves coming into it since it’s the first game of the 2013 season, to be here in Yankee Stadium since the first time last season, and all those different things ran through in terms of emotions and excitement,” Granderson said.
Ibanez got a nice ovation before the game from fans who remembered his clutch homers last October for the Yankees — when he connected this time, the crowd responded with a mix of boos and calls of “Ra-uuuul.”
Hernandez was involved in a weird play in the fourth when he ran over to cover first base on Overbay’s grounder to the right side. Hernandez was called for obstruction — and charged with an error — when Overbay ran into him near the bag as first baseman Kendrys Morales took the throw from second baseman Robert Andino for an apparent out.
“I was in the middle,” Hernandez said.
Wedge said he argued Overbay was already out before the obstruction occurred.
On a groundball, “it doesn’t matter if the runner is 89 feet away when he gets obstructed or he is 1 inch away. If he is obstructed before first base, the ball is dead and he is awarded first base,” umpire Hunter Wendelstedt said.
Seattle took a 1-0 lead in the third on Kyle Seager’s double.
NOTES: The Mariners committed two errors in a game for the first time this season. C Kelly Shoppach made a wild throw to first, trying to get Nelson when he struck out and reached on a wild pitch in the third. ... DH Travis Hafner was out of the Yankees’ lineup because of a sore right shoulder. Girardi said Hafner would have an MRI and get a couple days off as a precaution.