This isn't a blond joke.
After the Devil Rays hung on for a typically, um, hairy 3-2 victory over the White Sox on Saturday night to mark their first three-game winning streak of the season, manager Lou Piniella agreed to have his hair dyed blond this morning.
That works out well, because he'll need it to cover up the increasing gray after the Rays turned what looked to be an easy victory into their fifth consecutive one-run game, and 53rd decided by one or two runs. After a decent start by Jorge Sosa and a huge escape by rookie reliever Brandon Backe, Lance Carter gave up two runs in the ninth and allowed the tying run to second before recovering to get the final two outs.
"The guys want blond; we'll give them blond, how's that?" Piniella said. "The guy will be here tomorrow morning, and by game time I'll be a blond. It took until the middle of July to win three in a row, and that's with spring training included. I'm happy to do it. And I'm happier for (the players) than I am for anything else.
"So we'll give them the Jon Gruden look. He was here tonight. I took a look at him up there on the scoreboard and I saw that blond hair and I said, "Well, there you go.' "
Some Rays, skeptical Piniella would follow through after saying June 13 he was fit to be dyed, were eager to see the 59-year-old salt-and-pepper-haired manager's new look.
"I was thinking blond or red," said Aubrey Huff, whose own blond dye jobs tend to be a topic of conversation in the clubhouse. "Gray would look too natural."
It took nearly a month for the Rays to collect, but Damian Rolls said the timing couldn't be better with the upcoming road trip.
"Him going back to Seattle with blond hair is just fun," Rolls said. "It wouldn't have the same effect if it happened later on. The fact that we're going to Seattle this week is beautiful."
For the Rays, it wasn't just a win to dye for. The victory gave them four in their past five, a 6-6 record with one game left on the season's longest homestand, a second straight series win after going 0-11-1 in their previous 12, a chance for their first series sweep since Aug. 30-Sept. 1 at Texas. It also gave them some confidence that they can win close games against contending teams.
"We're playing good baseball," Piniella said. "This whole homestand we've played good baseball. Earlier in the homestand we weren't winning these type of games and lately we have been. And it seems to me the pattern is going to persist, that we're going to keep playing close games."
Facing Esteban Loaiza, who came in 11-3 with an AL-best 2.18 ERA (though a career 3-5, 9.23 mark against them), the Rays showed some blond ambition.
They took a 1-0 lead when Javier Valentin homered to open the fifth. They made it 3-0 in the seventh.
Sosa pitched into the sixth and Backe finished it, striking out Tony Graffanino and Miguel Olivo with the bases loaded. Piniella summoned Carter in the ninth. He gave up a leadoff homer to Magglio Ordonez, a double to Roberto Alomar, and a one-out double to Frank Thomas before striking out Brian Daubach and getting Carl Everett on a popup.
Piniella, who decided if the Rays didn't win Saturday he would cancel the offer for fear it would become a distraction, was ready to find out, for a while, if blonds really do have more fun.
"I'm going to keep it as long as it stays that way," he said. "Put it this way _ it won't be redone."
BLONDIE: A "preview" of what Lou Piniella might look like today after dying his hair blond to fulfill his promise if his Rays won three straight games.