By Larry LaRue
The News Tribune
CLEVELAND – The rules of baseball are absolutely clear: There can only be one save per game.
Don’t believe it.
Before Kazuhiro Sasaki got the last out of Seattle’s 2-1 victory over Cleveland on Friday – earning his 35th save of the season – this game had hung in the balance for nine innings.
Kenny Lofton saved it once for the Indians, stealing a Carlos Guillen home run with a marvelous catch. Arthur Rhodes saved it for the Mariners in the eighth inning, inheriting a one-out, runners-on-second-and-third base jam and getting out of it.
And David Bell saved it, too, with a sprawling stop of a Lofton ground ball in that eighth inning, scrambling to his feet and throwing the Cleveland leadoff hitter out by a half step to prevent the tying run from scoring.
“Down in the bullpen, we may not all get the saves, but what we’re about is picking each other up,” Rhodes said. “(Jeff Nelson) Nelly got in a jam in the eighth inning – second and third with one out – and I picked him up. He’s picked me up a few times this year, too.
“I apologized to him for letting that one run score … “
It has come to that in the Seattle clubhouse. Pitchers apologizing for giving up a run. On the other hand, it has come to this – a 79-30 record after 109 games.
“There’s no secrets, nothing we know that no one else in baseball knows,” said Jamie Moyer, whose seven shutout innings helped him win his 12th game of the year. “What we have is a great group of guys who play hard and have fun. People ask us to explain this all the time, how we’ve won this many games.
“There is no one explanation. We just play great fundamental baseball.”
In their first meeting of the year, both the Mariners and Indians played great fundamental baseball.
Moyer crafted a two-hitter through seven innings with guile and grit, using off-speed pitches that dipped as low as the 60s – then blowing 85 mph “heat” past a handful of hitters.
Cleveland right-hander Bartolo Colon took a different approach. He took a shutout into the eighth inning, hitting 100 mph on the Jacobs Field radar gun and benefiting from the broad strike zone of umpire Jim Reynolds.
Over the first seven innings, these two lineups managed a total of three hits.
“This is a hell of a game,” Pat Gillick muttered in the eighth inning.
It was as good a seven-word description as any – and then that game got better.
Bell opened the Mariners eighth inning with a soft line drive single to right field, and manager Lou Piniella had catcher Tom Lampkin drop the bunt that moved Bell to second base.
Ichiro Suzuki came to the plate, 0-for-3 despite two hard-hit balls, and glanced at third base, where Travis Fryman had moved back a step.
“That last at-bat was different than any other in the game,” Ichiro said.
“The game is on the line, you know it is there to be won.”
Ichiro dropped a bunt single in front of Fryman, getting Bell to third base. Mark McLemore lofted a fly ball to center field, Bell scrambled home and it was 1-0.
Ichiro then stole second base, his 38th of the season, and John Olerud rolled a single through the infield to make it 2-0.
“We do everything so fundamentally well, that’s our strength,” Piniella said. “We play good baseball. We play the game the right way. You do that many good things, good things happen.”
Nelson replaced Moyer to open the eighth inning and got into trouble. Rhodes bailed him out – and Bell helped him do so. In the ninth inning, it was Sasaki time once again.
“Rhodes got us out of a very tough spot in the eighth and Kaz worked another 1-2-3 ninth inning,” Piniella said. “It may have looked easy. It wasn’t.”
For Piniella and his team, for Cleveland manager Charlie Manuel and his, this was a draining game edged with perpetual tension.
The Mariners barked about seven called third strikes, growing so testy with umpire Reynolds that normally mild-mannered batting coach Gerald Perry got tossed in the fourth inning.
And in the seventh inning, volatile second baseman Roberto Alomar nearly triggered a bench-clearing moment when he took offense to Moyer and started toward the mound.
What was that about?
“Jamie was talking to me, reminding me to watch Alomar’s feet,” Lampkin said. “I think Robbie thought when Jamie pointed to his eyes he was saying something to Robbie – like ‘I’m going to hit you in the head.’”
Reynolds hopped out from behind the plate and issued a warning to both benches, though for precisely what no one seemed to understand.
“I have no idea what it was about,” Piniella said. “All I know is we’ve won two straight 2-1 games and I’m exhausted.”