One pitch made all the difference for Rhodes

INSIDE PITCH

April 27, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

At best, Arthur Rhodes was a long shot to log the first complete game of the year for the Orioles. But the odds were considerably shorter that the often erratic left-hander wouldn't survive the fourth inning yesterday.

For the first time in four starts, Rhodes had a lead of more than one run with which to work. But, thanks to three walks and a triple with two outs, he was on the verge of an early dismissal.

A 6-1 lead had dwindled to a pair of runs and Rickey Henderson was one ball away from taking the potential tying run to first base when Rhodes made the pitch that probably saved his day. The count was 3-and-1, Mark Williamson was ready in the bullpen and Rhodes was rapidly closing in on a warm shower.

"I did think about it," Rhodes said. "I just tried to throw the ball down the middle and make him [Henderson] hit it."

Opinions were divided as to whether the pitch was that inviting, but it was close enough to draw a swing from the usually selective Henderson. The result was a foul pop fly to first baseman Rafael Palmeiro that ended what had the makings of another ugly inning.

Manager Johnny Oates said that a walk to Henderson wouldn't have signaled the end for Rhodes, but that it would have left him with no room for error.

"He would've faced [Stan] Javier, to make him hit from the right side," Oates said of the A's switch-hitting center fielder. "But if he didn't get one of those two hitters [Henderson or Javier], that would've been all."

The inning unraveled in a hurry for Rhodes, even though he retired the most dangerous hitters in the A's lineup, Mark McGwire and Ruben Sierra, to start the inning.

"I wasn't thinking about anything other than getting one more out," said Rhodes. "I kept telling myself, 'There's two outs. Get one more and then regroup.' "

It took the message awhile to sink in, but when it did Rhodes went on to get "one more out" 16 straight times. Rhodes finished with a three-hitter, a career low, and only the third complete game of his career, the first since he pitched a five-hit shutout at Yankee Stadium on July 29, 1992.

Everything yesterday revolved back to the fourth inning, and the fact that Rhodes had the luxury of a lead that enabled him to survive.

"In his two previous starts he was behind 2-1 and 3-1 and had innings like that and we had to take him out to try to keep the games from getting out of hand," said Oates. "With the lead, we could afford to give him the chance to pitch through a trouble spot."

It took Rhodes 136 pitches to register his first win of the season -- but only one, the one to Henderson -- to turn the game in his favor.

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