Rhodes takes his earrings out, blows save in ninth
By Kirby Arnold
SEATTLE — Somewhere in Antwerp, a diamond dealer might have been cursing Arthur Rhodes:
Never wear silver-set diamond earrings with a gold necklace. And for goodness sakes, don’t throw Kenny Lofton a breaking pitch when he can’t catch up with the fastball.
Rhodes couldn’t escape either of those faux pas on Sunday, and as a result he lost his earrings for a second straight day and the Seattle Mariners lost a game to the Cleveland Indians.
Lofton smacked Rhodes’ two-strike, two-out slider into center field to drive home two runs in the ninth inning as the Indians came from behind to beat the Mariners 4-3 Sunday at Safeco Field.
The Indians avoided a Seattle sweep of the three-game series and made more than a fashion statement, one that could come into play in October. If the season ended today, the Mariners and Indians would meet in the first round of the playoffs.
"I think it would be a good series," Mariners relief pitcher Jeff Nelson said. "Neither team is going to quit. They have good hitters; we have good hitters. But we beat their best starters this weekend and that gave us a lot of confidence going into the playoffs."
So what explains the ninth inning Sunday?
Needing three outs to protect a 3-2 lead, Nelson got only two. He hit Marty Cordova with a pitch and got the next two outs before pinch-hitter Eddie Taubensee grounded a single up the middle and Einar Diaz drew a walk that loaded the bases.
With Lofton — a left-hander who already had hit a home run, two singles and had two RBI — coming up next, Mariners manager Lou Piniella brought in the left-handed Rhodes from the bullpen.
As he promised a day earlier, Rhodes wore the diamond earrings that caused such a stir on Saturday when he and Omar Vizquel shouted fighting words at each other.
Before Rhodes reached the dirt portion of the infield, umpire Tim McClelland ordered him to remove the earrings. Rhodes did so without vehement protest, although afterwards he clearly was irritated with McClelland.
"He should have waited until the hitter gets to the plate," Rhodes said. "If Lofton had wanted me to take them out, that’s when he should have said something. I took them out because I didn’t want to make a big deal about it. There was a game on the line with two outs. I didn’t want to get thrown out of the game again."
On the Mariners’ bench, pitching coach Bryan Price had an uneasy feeling about Lofton.
"He hadn’t been hitting the ball well until today," Price said. "I just don’t like him coming up late in the game. He finds a way of putting the bat on the ball."
Rhodes kept his composure and attacked Lofton as though he were the man waiting in the on-deck circle — Vizquel.
"It was a good slider, down and away," Rhodes said. "He went down and got it and it found a hole. You tip your hat to him."
The Mariners made a ninth-inning charge — loading the bases with one out when Mike Cameron singled to center, Guillen reached on an infield dribbler to shortstop and Stan Javier chopped a ball off home plate for a single — and then learned what it’s like to lose a close game.
Ichiro Suzuki bounced back to the pitcher for a fielder’s choice that left him 0-for-5, ending his hitting streak at 21 games and dropping his league-best batting average to .347.
Mark McLemore, whose home run over the center field fence in the eighth inning gave the Mariners a 3-2 lead, hit a fielder’s-choice grounder to shortstop. That one ended the game, but possibly not a brewing rivalry between the Mariners and Indians.
"They’re going to have experience in the playoffs," Nelson said. "They’ve been there many times. It would be a good series."
As for the psychological impact of Sunday’s loss, the Mariners said there was none.
"You can’t get it done every time," Mike Cameron said. "If we did, we wouldn’t have 37 losses."
"We’ve won 94 games," Nelson said. "You’re going to lose some. Better in August than in October."