Rodriguez slams door on O's, 7-4

Johnson loads bases

Mariner's HR in 5th off Rhodes empties them

Ripken stays at 399

No word on trades

deadline is tonight

July 31, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE -- Every pitch thrown to Cal Ripken Friday night was met with breathless anticipation. Trade speculation hung heavy in the air, which chilled a crowd still getting used to topless baseball.

Denied a homer in four at-bats, Ripken's milestone was put on hold for another day. So were any pending deals as the waiver deadline crept near. All that remained was the game itself, and another chance for the Orioles to convince themselves that the wild-card race hadn't passed them by.

Playing before 44,931 at Safeco Field, with its retractable roof and view of its predecessor beyond left field, the Orioles were left exposed by Seattle rookie starter Gil Meche and abandoned by reliever Arthur Rhodes in a 7-4 loss to the Mariners.

Rhodes replaced starter Jason Johnson with the bases loaded in the fifth inning and the Orioles leading, 2-1. He struck out Ken Griffey for the first out, then served up a grand slam to Alex Rodriguez. One out later, Jay Buhner homered to jack the Mariners' lead to 6-2 and Rhodes' ERA to 6.44.

Rhodes, who has allowed the most homers among Orioles relievers with nine, has drawn interest from a number of clubs. A deal with the Cleveland Indians appeared all but complete, but a club source said owner Peter Angelos remained hopeful of signing the left-hander to a multi-year extension.

Johnson is assured of staying, his standing within the organization secure after being labeled an "untouchable" by club officials. The Mariners couldn't reach him for four innings Friday night, but took hold in the fifth after falling behind, 2-0.

Having put a runner in scoring position in four of the first five innings, they cashed in when the first four batters reached. Johnson (2-5) threw away Brian Hunter's bunt to bring home Russ Davis, who led off with a walk and moved to second when Dan Wilson was hit by a pitch. David Bell walked, and manager Ray Miller summoned Rhodes.

Johnson met Miller a few steps short of the mound and handed him the ball. He walked briskly to the dugout, never lifting his head. There wasn't much worth seeing after he left.

Johnson had been locked in a scoreless duel with Meche until the fifth, when Charles Johnson drove a two-run double over the head of Mariners center fielder Ken Griffey. Will Clark had led off with a single and moved to second on a one-out walk to Rich Amaral, who started in center so Brady Anderson could rest a bruised left ankle that also could keep him out of today's game.

Charles Johnson has stroked three two-run doubles in the last three games, including a pair in Wednesday's 8-6 win over the Texas Rangers. Last night's hit was his seventh in his last 21 at-bats, though his July average stood at .222 before the game.

Meche (2-1) was removed with one out in the seventh inning after the 46-56 Orioles had pushed across their third run. He allowed five hits and left to a standing ovation.

The Mariners were poised to break through against Jason Johnson in the fourth after Griffey opened with a double to right-center field -- only Seattle's third hit. Edgar Martinez walked with one out, but Johnson struck out Buhner and retired John Mabry on a pop-up.

Johnson had gotten into some first-inning trouble when Bell looped a double inside the right-field line with one out. Placed on treacherous footing, Johnson responded by striking out Griffey and Rodriguez.

When Buhner went down swinging in the second inning, Johnson had struck out four of the first six batters. He also got an assist from right-fielder Albert Belle, who made a leaping catch near the top of the wall to rob Martinez.

Johnson was making his second start against the Mariners, the other coming in May 1998 while with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He lasted only 3 2/3 innings in that game, allowing three home runs in a 5-2 defeat.

He ran into some problems in the third inning Friday night, but in more modest fashion. Davis led off by poking a single to right. He stole second, took third when Wilson flied to center, but stayed there as Hunter lined out and Bell bounced to third.

One night after being rationed to three hits by Texas journeyman Mike Morgan, the Orioles were introduced to Meche (pronounced Mesh), who began the year at Double-A New Haven.

Making his fourth career start, Meche was trying to lift a club that had lost 13 of its last 19, and 16 of 25, but was two games ahead of the Orioles in the wild-card standings.

Meche coaxed three pop-ups in the first inning, but allowed a one-out single to Harold Baines in the second and compounded his problems by walking Clark. Given a chance to hit his 400th career homer and stake Johnson to an early lead, Ripken flew to shallow left field. Amaral then grounded to short, and Meche was off the hook.

He had spent enough time there in his previous start to leave scars. Meche suffered his first loss on Saturday when the Minnesota Twins scored seven runs in 4 1/2 innings. He walked five and threw 92 pitches -- only 44 for strikes -- but exhibited better control Friday night.

Ripken didn't bat again until the fifth, after Clark had singled. He got ahead 2-0, then bounced into a force at second.

Ripken lined a double just inside third base leading off the seventh and later scored on an error by Rodriguez. He singled to center in the eighth, with Belle scoring when Griffey overran the ball. Amaral struck out looking with two on and the Orioles behind, 6-4.

Orioles today

Opponent: Seattle Mariners

Site: Safeco Field, Seattle

Time: 4: 35 p.m.

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: O's Mike Mussina (13-5, 3.69) vs. Mariners' Jeff Fassero (4-12, 7.06)

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