He'd spent nearly his entire life suiting up to play a sport that changed the world around him for the better. But never had that task seemed...
CHICAGO — He’d spent nearly his entire life suiting up to play a sport that changed the world around him for the better.
But never had that task seemed more difficult for Mariners second baseman Jose Lopez than during Wednesday night’s 3-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs. Only hours before, in a single telephone call from a continent away in Venezuela, the world around him had once again been changed.
This time, it was for the worse.
His older brother, Gabriel, only 28, had been killed in a motorcycle crash. Lopez spoke to his father, Celestino, by phone and was told the funeral would be held this morning, making it impossible to fly to South America in time.
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So Lopez donned his cap, laced up his spikes and did the only other thing he could.
“My daddy said to stay and play baseball for him,” Lopez said. “Play the season for your brother.”
And play Lopez did, for eight solid innings before being replaced after a pinch-hit appearance by Jose Vidro. His sympathetic teammates took notice.
Never had the end of a five-game winning streak, in front of 40,163 fans at Wrigley Field, seemed less important. Earlier in the day, the prospect of starting pitcher Miguel Batista finally making it through seven innings, on 114 pitches, might have seemed a big deal. Or that the Mariners managed just seven scattered hits through eight innings off Cubs lefty Sean Marshall and just one more run after a Richie Sexson solo homer in the second gave them a 1-0 lead.
Not on this night.
That Batista took the defeat despite giving up only one earned run may have seemed unfair before that telephone call to Lopez. And the latest throwing error by shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, leading to a pair of unearned runs in the fifth that decided the game, might have rated as something to worry about.
Somehow, it all seemed so trivial.
“I tried to play the same way,” Lopez said after going hitless, but driving in a run on a groundout and making several tough plays in the field. “It was a bit different, but I tried to play the same way. I tried to play for my team.”
That team suffered only its second loss in its past 11 games, dropping four games behind the division-leading Los Angeles Angels. Batista gave up a single to Mike Fontenot that brought home the decisive runs in the fifth after Betancourt’s throw in the dirt loaded the bases with two out.
Seattle got one back in the sixth when Ichiro tripled and scored on Lopez’s ground out. But that was it.
The Mariners have been put through some tough things this past month. They’ve had virtually no off days, traveled through several time zones on four-city road trips and seen their bullpen gassed by starters who hadn’t tossed seven innings since May 27.
But nothing compares to this.
“It’s painful,” said Mariners third-base coach Carlos Garcia, a Venezuelan who is close to Lopez. “Put it this way, it’s like you have 10 fingers and all of a sudden, somebody rips one finger out of your hand. It’s painful. But you’re here. You’ve still got to go ahead and do it. You’ve got to perform. … I give a lot of credit to the kid.”
Garcia was an infielder with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1992 when his father died while his team was playing in the National League Championship Series. His family held off telling Garcia until several days later, after the Pirates were eliminated by Atlanta.
Garcia told Lopez to remember that: “We’re all family. This is our family. We spend more time with this group of guys than we do with our real families.”
And that family reached out. Mariners closer J.J. Putz embraced Lopez in a large hug. Others spoke softly to their teammate, arms on his shoulder.
“It’s extremely hard for him,” Sexson said. “I know that if it were my family, I’d get on the first plane. But unfortunately, he doesn’t have that option with where he lives. It’s tough for him to go out and play but he did a good job. We needed him. We’ve got a couple of guys hurt and he picked us up.”
Lopez plans to keep on doing that. He might fly home during the All-Star break in a few weeks, but isn’t sure when he’ll see his family.
His situation brought back memories for Batista. He started for Arizona last season after learning his grandmother had died in the Dominican Republic.
“That’s one of the toughest things about this game that a lot of people don’t take into consideration,” Batista said. “They say you have a good life and certain stuff. But I don’t know a person with a normal job who, when a family member dies, is going to stay in front of their computer for another six or seven hours.”
Lopez does have a good life. He has a girlfriend who loves him and a son less than a year old. He’s coming off an All-Star season and just inked a new contract that has made him very wealthy.
But he doesn’t have his brother.
“He was a good man,” Lopez said, voice wavering. “A good man.”
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners
|Playing good baseball|
|Despite Wednesday’s loss, the Mariners have won nine of the past 11 games, including six by one run:|
|June 2||Seattle 5, Texas 4||Mariners hang on behind Putz’s 13th save|
|June 3||Seattle 11, Texas 6||Starter Feierabend picks up first major-league win|
|June 4||Seattle 7, Baltimore 4||Mariners win with four runs in the eighth.|
|June 5||Seattle 5, Baltimore 4||M’s rally with four runs in the seventh|
|June 6||Baltimore 11, Seattle 6||Washburn can’t hold a 4-0 lead|
|June 8||Seattle 6, @ San Diego 5 (11)||Ibanez homer is winning run.|
|June 9||Seattle 6, @San Diego 5||Weaver pitches well, M’s rally from 5-1|
|June 10||Seattle 4, @ San Diego 3||Winning run in bottom of ninth again|
|June 11||Seattle 8, @ Cleveland 7||Ibanez has two HRs, five RBI|
|June 12||Seattle 5, @ Chicago 3 (13)||Putz escapes bases-loaded jam|
|June 13||@Chicago 3, Seattle 2||Two unearned runs prove costly|