By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
SEATTLE — All for nothing.
Eight masterful innings by Hisashi Iwakuma slipped away Tuesday night when Fernando Rodney yielded two runs in the ninth inning in what, for the Seattle Mariners, was a numbing 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays at Safeco Field.
“This was a tough game,” Iwakuma admitted through translator Antony Suzuki. “You face their ace (David Price). You know it’s going to be a tight ballgame from the get-go. …
“It’s not easy to lose a game like this. But that’s part of the game.”
Rodney served up a leadoff homer to David DeJesus but retired the next two hitters before three straight singles produced the winning run. It was a nightmarish first appearance by Rodney against his former club.
“Same person,” Rodney insisted. “I didn’t try to do anything different (because it was the Rays). I think I made good pitches tonight. I missed one, and they tied the game.
“The last few hitters, I made good pitches. Two hit ground balls and a pop-up to center field. We couldn’t get outs. That’s the ballgame.”
Matt Joyce’s third single of the game scored pinch-runner Sean Rodriguez from second. Rodney exited, to loud boos, after a walk loaded the bases.
“I understand that part,” he said. “The fans boo because they’re mad. They want to win. That’s why you bring in a closer, to close the game. That didn’t happen tonight.”
Danny Farquhar stranded the three runners by striking out Ryan Hanigan, but the damage was done. Price (4-3) closed out a complete game with a scoreless ninth.
Rodney (1-2) had recorded saves in 11 of his 12 previous opportunities. And let there be no doubt: manager Lloyd McClendon believed it was the obvious move to summon Rodney for the ninth.
“This is something I don’t think I should have to defend,” McClendon said. “First of all, Kuma is on his third start of the year. He had no spring training. He had (97) pitches.
“I’ll answer it this time. Yes, Kuma was out of gas. But I’m not going to defend that all year. First of all, I’ve got one of the best closers in the game. This guy is going to save a bunch of games for us.
“It just didn’t go his way tonight. That’s baseball. It happens. And I know everybody is upset. I’m upset. (Heck), boo me. I’m upset, too. That’s the way it goes. We’ll pick up the pieces and get ready for tomorrow.”
This one stung.
Iwakuma delivered eight dazzling innings in a marquee
pitching matchup against Price before DeJesus greeted Rodney by sending a 96-mph fastball into the right-field seats.
“That one,” Rodney said, “stayed right in the middle.”
It got worse with two outs.
James Loney poked a single into center. Desmond Jennings followed with a hard grounder through shortstop Brad Miller for a single that moved Rodriguez to second.
Joyce sent a sinking liner into center for an RBI single.
It was terrific stuff for eight innings.
The Mariners nicked Price for one run in the first inning, and Iwakuma made it stand up. All that was needed was for Rodney to close out the 1-0 victory.
Iwakuma yielded four hits in eight innings while striking out five and walking none. He lowered his ERA to 1.59 and stretched his scoreless streak at Safeco to 24 innings.
Price was nearly as good — better in some ways, because he had to pitch around multiple scoring threats. The Mariners were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
“We definitely could have used a few more big hits,” third baseman Kyle Seager said, “but he was able to bear down when he needed to. He didn’t give in. He’s got really good stuff.”
Iwakuma pitched out of jam in the eighth after Joyce opened the inning by beating an over-shifted infield with a ground single through the left side. Yunel Escobar’s grounder to short resulted in a force at second. Hanigan batted for Jose Molina and flied to left before ending the inning by striking out Wil Myers on a full-count slider. But that capped a 24-pitch inning that pushed Iwakuma to 97 pitches.
That took away any possibility that Iwakuma would return for the ninth. In came Rodney, who closed out a 1-0 victory for Iwakuma last Thursday over Kansas City.
“What happened tonight,” Rodney said, “that’s going to happen sometimes. You make good pitches, and get out of the inning. That’s the only difference tonight. I didn’t get out of the inning.
“There’s nothing I can do. Just get my mind fresh for tomorrow. Forget about what happened tonight.”