It was three hours after the most starkly depressing Mariners defeat of the season — and there are quite a few candidates for that distinction.

Philip Humber, a journeyman right-hander for the Chicago White Sox whose career before and after April 21 has been marked by mediocrity, had just hurled a perfect game at Safeco Field, the 21st in major-league history. A small group of Mariners hitters sat at their locker, commiserating and dissecting the occasion, their spirits sagging.

Among them, still in full uniform, sitting on the clubhouse floor, was Felix Hernandez, giving the disconsolate hitters a pep talk.

"He was telling them, 'This is going to work. This is going to be OK,' " said pitching coach Carl Willis. "Obviously, he didn't have to do that. But he has a passion for the game, and he has a passion for the Seattle Mariners. It's real. You might hear about it, but I don't think people grasp how deep that is."

As manager of the Cleveland Indians, Eric Wedge for years had monitored the progress of Hernandez at a distance, from flame-throwing but erratic youngster to increasingly poised ace. But when he took the Mariners job last year, Wedge was unprepared for the total package he was inheriting.

"If I could have had a best-case scenario what this guy is all about, before I came in here, on and off the field — the way he handles himself, the type of teammate he is, the type of competitor he is, the way he feels about the Seattle Mariners, the way he goes about his business, the way he leads by example — it couldn't be any better," Wedge said. "Maybe even better than that."

That is the Felix Hernandez who will leave Sunday for Kansas City and his third All-Star appearance.