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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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July 31, 2008 8:55 PM

M's hang on, beat Rangers

Posted by Geoff Baker

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It looked for the longest time like the red dot had a better shot at winning tonight than the Texas Rangers. That is, until the bullpen made things interesting in the ninth. The Mariners opened up a 6-0 lead by the fourth inning and rode R.A. Dickey's arm most of the way. But the bullpen, up by six in the ninth, yielded three runs before hanging on for an 8-5 win.

Mark Lowe had some trouble in the ninth, yielding three straight hits and a run. J.J. Putz came on from there and served up a two-run double to Frank Catalanotto. After a lineout by Michael Young, Putz struck out Josh Hamilton to end the game. Some sweaty palms there.

Dickey held the Rangers scoreless through seven innings before serving up a two-run homer to Ramon Vazquez in the eighth.

It was big for Dickey on so many levels. The last time he pitched here was in his one and only start of the 2006 season. He was starting for the Rangers and tied a modern day major league record by yielding six home runs in just 3 1/3 innings against the Detroit Tigers.

"It's mainly personally satisfying,'' he said of tonight's return. "It's not like I have any type of vendetta against the Rangers for not keeping me here. But it is satisfying for me, because the last time I was on this field, things didn't go so well.''

The two pitchers he's tied with for the dubious record? Fellow knuckleballers Tim Wakefield and Charlie Hough.

The team needed the innings tonight. The Arthur Rhodes trade left the bullpen short an arm. That arm will be replaced with a roster move tomorrow. Another lefty is likely needed, so Ryan Rowland-Smith can be called up. The thing is, Dickey can also neutralize lefties, which would enable the team to put him in the bullpen and try Rowland-Smith as a starter.

Tonight's Dickey outing might make folks think twice about that.

"Dickey did a great job,'' Mariners manager Jim Riggleman said. "From the second night of the series, we needed somebody to go deep in the game. It was real big that Dickey gave us so much time out there.''

Yes, Miguel Batista went six innings last night. But Riggleman explained how even that isn't always enough for a bullpen.

"Any time a starter gives you more than six, you're going to have some pretty good matchups for your bullpen the rest of the way.''

In the end, he allowed the two runs over 7 2/3 innings. Jose Lopez did indeed extend his hitting streak, to 18 games, with a single in the eighth. His bat is staying strong.

I caught up with Raul Ibanez earlier on today and asked him about the trade rumors. He said his phone battery went dead from all the calls he kept getting from family and friends. He kept trying not to take them, or pay attention to the rumors because they were immensely distracting.

He said the team will miss Arthur Rhodes, who was one of the group of clubhouse leaders who tried to keep things running normally this season. In the case of Rhodes and the bullpen, it seemed to work. The releivers are the best group of performers this team has.

They all looked up to Rhodes. Many watched him pitch on TV when they were just kids. He told the, how to behave in public, how to act like pros. He got on them when they weren't working hard enough behind the scenes. Or when he felt they weren't conducting themselves like big leaguers on the field or away from it.

"He wasn't afraid, if guys showed up late, to go up and let the guy know,'' Ibanez said.

He was a big believer in the concept of "service time" and the clubhouse pecking order. In other words, that younger players should know their place and respect others in the game. Not to the point of being a jerk. He was always there to help a younger pitcher. But he wanted them to respect the game and act like they belonged there.

And they listened to him. He commanded their respect. Of all the problems this team has had, the bullpen has arguably been responsible for the fewest. Rhodes had plenty to do with that. Especially after George Sherrill, second-oldest releiver on last year's team, was traded, and J.J. Putz got hurt. Rhodes was there to pick up the slack.

"There's different elements of style,'' Ibanez said of clubhouse leaders. "His was a more vocal, in-your-face type of thing.''

From my experience covering teams, though, it's tough for relievers to carry that over to the rest of their teammates. They are usually better at policing other relievers.

Those I spoke to said Rhodes was a great guy away from the ballpark, not afraid to have fun. But at the park, he was all business and expected others to behave the same way.

"Just the other day, on the board, someone wrote that we’d be able to wear jeans on the team plane,'' reliever Mark Lowe said. "I asked Arthur about it and he said he was going to wear a suit. I asked him why he'd want to do that and he told me 'Because I'm a professional and that's how it's done.' ''

This team will miss him.


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