By Kirby Arnold
SEATTLE – At 4 o’clock Friday afternoon, Lou Piniella glorified Kazuhiro Sasaki.
“He made the All-Star team and he saved the All-Star Game,” Piniella said. “I think he’s regarded as one of the outstanding relief pitchers in all of baseball.”
By 10:30 Friday night, there were few words to describe what Sasaki had just experienced.
Needing just three outs to save what seemed like a dramatic comeback victory after Edgar Martinez’s grand-slam home run, Sasaki gave up five runs in the ninth as the Chicago White Sox beat the Seattle Mariners 8-6 at Safeco Field.
“We’re not used to seeing this,” Piniella said.
Seeing it was, unfortunately, believing it.
Jose Valentin doubled with the bases loaded to tie the score at 6-6 and Magglio Ordonez doubled home two more runs as Sasaki, who had been aiming for his 36th save, instead fell to 0-4. It was Sasaki’s fifth blown save this season, his first since June 30.
”My fastball was good and I had good velocity, but my splitter wasn’t dropping tonight. I know I have to get tougher mentally. Don’t let that happen again,” Sasaki said.
Piniella says he’ll have a chance to redeem himself.
”If we get in the same situation, he’ll be in there tomorrow,” Piniella said.
Sasaki took the mound with a 6-3 lead in the ninth in his first appearance in five days. He got Carlos Lee on a popup for the first out, but Jeff Liefer lined a single to center field, Chris Singleton knocked a base hit to left and pinch-hitter Jose Canseco walked on five pitches to load the bases.
Sasaki walked pinch-hitter Herbert Perry on a 3-2 pitch to force in a run, making the score 6-4, but came back to strike out Ray Durham.
He couldn’t sneak anything past Valentin, whose drive to the right-center-field gap bounced over the fence for a ground-rule double that drove home two runs. Ordonez then lined a double down the left-field line, scoring two more runs.
It continued a pattern of misfires by the Seattle bullpen, which has coughed up the lead four times in the last six games.
“August doldrums?” Piniella said, repeating a question. “I don’t believe in August doldrums. They just hit the ball.”
Someone tried to change the subject, mentioning the 10 runners the Mariners left on base. Oooh. Sore subject.
“When you have a three-run lead in the ninth inning, you can leave 27 on base,” Piniella said. “You should win the ballgame.”
The loss, combined with Oakland’s victory over the Yankees, trimmed the Mariners’ lead to 17 games over the A’s in the American League West Division. The last time the lead was as small as 17 games as June 14.
It also ruined Aaron Sele’s chance to become the third Mariners starting pitcher to win 13 games. The no-decision left him with a 12-3 record.
The Mariners stranded eight runners in the first five innings against Chicago starter Jon Garland, then pounced on two Chicago relievers in the sixth, when they scored five runs to overcome a 3-1 deficit.
Al Martin led off with a triple against reliever Alan Embree and scored on a sacrifice fly by Dan Wilson to make the score 3-2. Embree then loaded the bases when Carlos Guillen walked, Ichiro Suzuki dropped a bunt base hit and Mark McLemore walked.
The White Sox brought in right-hander Rocky Biddle, who threw two straight balls and then faced a pitcher’s nightmare: pitching to Martinez when everybody in the park knew a fastball was coming.
Martinez didn’t just hit the ball, he launched it.
It sailed so high that White Sox left fielder Carlos Lee backpedaled slowly to the warning track, seemingly with every thought of catching it. Lee eventually ran out of room, and the ball dropped straight down into the White Sox bullpen.
It was Martinez’s 1,007th RBI and his 11th in the last five games.
Sele pitched through 7 1/3 and handed a 6-3 lead to Jeff Nelson, who got the final two outs in the eighth. Sasaki, with 35 saves, took over in the ninth and quickly got Lee on a popup.
Then he fell apart.