Despite eight shutout innings from Hisashi Iwakuma, it was a quick, easy decision for Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon to call on his closer in the ninth inning Tuesday night.
Minutes later, it was a long, slow walk for closer Fernando Rodney back to the dugout after blowing his second save opportunity of the season.
Rodney allowed two runs in the top of the ninth inning to his former team, the Tampa Bay Rays, wasting another gem from Iwakuma in the Mariners’ 2-1 loss. Rodney was pulled after walking the bases loaded with two outs, drawing a chorus of boos among many in the crowd of 13,446 at Safeco Field.
“I understand that part. When the fans boo, they get mad because they want to win, and that’s why they bring the closer in, to close the game,” Rodney said. “But that didn’t happen tonight. I hope to come back ready for tomorrow.”
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Rodney has quickly built a reputation in Seattle for some shaky ninth-inning work, but had entered Tuesday tied for the American League lead with 11 saves, having converted eight straight save chances.
The Mariners led 1-0 entering the ninth inning. The Rays’ leadoff hitter, David DeJesus, who was knocked to the ground on a way-inside fastball from Rodney, belted a 2-2 changeup over the wall in right field to tie the score at 1-1.
James Loney singled off Rodney with two outs, Desmond Jennings followed with a sharp single and Matt Joyce blooped a single to center to drive in the go-ahead run.
Rodney was pulled after walking Yunel Escobar.
Iwakuma had thrown 97 pitches over eight innings, outdueling Rays ace David Price. Iwakuma allowed just four hits, with five strikeouts in no walks. In two home starts this season, Iwakuma has thrown 16 scoreless innings.
McClendon said Iwakuma was “out of gas” in just his third start of the season.
“This is something I certainly don’t think I should have to defend,” McClendon said. “I’ve got one of the best closers in the game, and this guy’s 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’s upset. I’m upset. They ought to boo me, I’m upset, too. But that’s the way it goes. We’ll pick up the pieces tomorrow.”
Price (4-3), the 2012 AL Cy Young winner, allowed only a first-inning run in a complete-game effort, striking out 12. Eight of his strikeouts were looking, and the Mariners were 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position.
James Jones, the Mariners’ rookie leadoff hitter, fell behind 0-2 before lacing a 95-mph fastball the other way, just inside the third-base bag. He advanced to second on a Stefen Romero ground out and scored when Robinson Cano grounded out to first.
In the first inning, Iwakuma allowed a one-out double to DeJesus. After that, Iwakuma retired 13 Rays in a row before Matt Joyce singled with two outs in the fifth.
Iwakuma has a streak of 24 scoreless innings at home.
“I thought I pitched well,” Iwakuma said through an interpreter. “The ball came out of my hand pretty good. They bounced me around a couple times early in the game, but the third, fourth inning I was able to get in a groove, and from there I was able to take off. I pitched deep in the game and I think I did my part.”
Cano doubled in the fourth, extending his streak of reaching base to 22 games. Cano has at least one hit in 33 of 39 games this season.
The series finale is scheduled for 12:40 p.m. Wednesday, and McClendon said he wouldn’t hesitate to call on Rodney again if needed.
“If we have a save situation tomorrow, he’ll be right back out there, I can tell you that,” he said.
Adam Jude: 206-464-2364
On Twitter: @a_jude