Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon made it clear before Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium: He didn’t want to use closer Fernando Rodney for a fourth consecutive day.
“Ideally, I don’t like to pitch guys more than three days in a row,” McClendon said. “We’ll see. I would doubt very seriously he’ll be in the game.”
But with a one-run lead to protect in the ninth inning for a weekend sweep, McClendon turned to Rodney.
Three outs later, the Mariners had a 2-1 victory and their first three-game sweep in the heartland in seven years. So what changed?
“It’s simple,” McClendon said. “I thought about it. We had a talk. He felt good. If you really think about it, the last three days, his workload was very efficient ... and it was very efficient today. Not a lot of pitches.
“But I told him, ‘You’re definitely off tomorrow.’ He wanted to know if he could go back to the Dominican. I said, ‘No, have your (backside) on that plane.’ ”
The Mariners jet home to open a three-game series Monday night against the Boston Red Sox at Safeco Field. The postgame atmosphere in the Seattle clubhouse suggested it likely would be a happy ride.
“The Royals, they’ve been hot,” said Bremerton native Willie Bloomquist, whose RBI double in the fifth inning erased a 1-0 deficit. “Coming in here, we knew we had our hands full, but we stepped up to the challenge.
“That kind of gives you an idea of what, hopefully, we’re capable of doing if we play the way we’re supposed to. It’s real nice to get three wins from a team that’s hot.”
Left-hander Roenis Elias (7-5) got the victory by out-pitching Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura (5-6) in a matchup between two rookies. Rodney’s save was his 21st in 23 chances.
“Our guy (Elias) has been good,” McClendon said, “and we knew this (Ventura) kid, for them, coming in. We faced him at our place. He really dialed it up a few times to 101 (mph). He was pretty good.”
It was 1-1 when Mike Zunino opened the seventh inning by turning on a 1-2 curve from Ventura and driving it 402 feet to left for his ninth homer of the season.
“He’s got some electric stuff,” Zunino said. “A guy like that, you’ve got to hope he makes a mistake over the plate. He threw me a breaking ball, and it’s one of those things. I had to be on time for the fastball, but it popped up, and I recognized it early. I really didn’t try to do too much with it.”
Dustin Ackley and Brad Miller followed with singles. Ventura turned Bloomquist’s bid for a sacrifice into a force at third, and that stemmed Seattle’s momentum.
Endy Chavez flied out to left, and James Jones grounded out to second, but the Mariners had the lead.
The Royals tried to respond later in the inning after Justin Maxwell beat an overshifted infield for a one-out single through the right side. Pedro Ciriaco followed with a bunt and was initially called safe.
The Mariners appealed, and after 3 minutes, 4 seconds, the call was overturned. That left the tying run on second with two outs, which prompted a pitching change: Yoervis Medina replaced Elias.
“I really didn’t think it was that close,” McClendon said. “I thought he was out (watching it live). It was fortunate that (replay) proved us right because that is a big play. We’ve got problems if he’s not out there.”
Medina ended the inning by retiring Lorenzo Cain on a fly to center.
Elias’ line showed one run and five hits in 6† innings with two walks and five strikeouts. Ventura exited after seven innings, allowing two runs and six hits while striking out six and walking two.
“Anytime you go seven innings and give up two runs, you give your team a chance to win a game,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “That’s a great job.”
Great, maybe, but not good enough.
The Mariners dodged another threat in the eighth after Omar Infante led off with a single against Medina. That prompted a bullpen call for Charlie Furbush, who made one pitch that Eric Hosmer lined out to second.
In came Danny Farquhar, who balked Infante to second before delivering a pitch. Farquhar then retired Billy Butler on a liner to second before striking out Alex Gordon on three pitches.
That got the game to the ninth — and to Rodney for a fourth consecutive day.
“No problem,” Rodney said. “I felt ready. I played catch today, and warming up, I felt good. I was loose. That’s what I was looking for.”