Johnson is ticket as Mariners fly on Lefty 3-hits Angels to give Seattle 1st title, red-eye flight to N.Y.

Sojo: Broken-bat 'slam'

Yankees are rested, ready for opener of best-of-5 series

October 03, 1995|By Tom Friend | Tom Friend,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

SEATTLE -- His pitches were either overhand, sidearm or invisible. Randy Johnson needed only two runs yesterday, got nine and the Seattle Mariners, at the age of 19, finally reached manhood.

By achieving a 9-1 winner-take-all victory over the California Angels, the Mariners were anointed American League West champions for the first time, paused to swig some champagne and then hailed a red-eye flight to New York, where Chris Bosio will oppose David Cone at Yankee Stadium tonight in the first postseason game in Mariners' history.

"No sleep on the plane," Ken Griffey proclaimed.

And to the naysayers who doubted that the Mariners could win a title, Jay Buhner said, "All I can say is eat crow, man."

It may have been raining outside the Kingdome, but it was pouring 96-mph fastballs inside. Johnson retired the first 17 batters he faced, yielded two measly hits before losing a shutout in the ninth, struck out a dozen batters and was a cheerleader in his spare time.

He did it all on three days' rest, and the Yankees will be glad to know he will not pitch today on one night's sleep.

Meanwhile, a man deplored by baseball 24 months ago drove in the game's first run in the fifth inning. Vince Coleman, evicted from the New York Mets for tossing a firecracker after a game in Los Angeles in 1993, was Seattle's smoking gun yesterday. His single off Mark Langston sent burly Dan Wilson scampering home.

Two innings later, a most unorthodox, broken-bat "grand slam" of sorts slammed the door on the Angels, who had collapsed in September, revived over the weekend, only to be eliminated for good.

A single by Mike Blowers, a bunt by Tino Martinez that was bobbled by Langston and a hit batter (Joey Cora) loaded the bases with two out for Luis Sojo, the Mariners' shortstop and one of the lightest bats in a prodigious lineup. And Sojo cued a remarkable ball inside first base as the top of his bat flew toward the mound.

As two runs crossed, the ball rolled to the Angels' bullpen in right, bounced off a bench, and the subsequent relay throw went to the pitcher Langston, a four-time Gold Glove winner who was the cutoff man. He double-pumped, tried throwing out Cora at the plate, but the ball swerved wide, off the catcher's mitt. Cora scored and then Sojo slid maniacally for home plate, beating the return throw to Langston.

Four runs scored, and with the way Johnson was pitching, that was essentially that.

Johnson not only threw meteors, he threw strikes. His first inning lasted four minutes, his second lasted four minutes, his third lasted nine minutes (though he struck out the side), his fifth lasted six minutes and his sixth was his first to reach double digits.

In that sixth, Rex Hudler broke up the perfect game with an off-the-end-of-the bat single to right and then reached second base after the Mariners botched a rundown after Hudler nearly was picked off. The score was just a precarious 1-0 at the time, but Johnson struck out Tony Phillips to end the inning, let out a primal scream and then raised his arms to the crowd of 52,356.

The Mariners won their division despite a debilitating wrist injury in May to superstar Griffey.

Griffey, who shattered the wrist slamming into the Kingdome's baby blue outfield wall to make an amazing catch against the Orioles, showed off his long scar before yesterday's game and talked about all the angst it had caused the Mariners.

"I was walking in from the outfield, man, and I look up and it's already up on the board I'm out three months," he said, exaggerating slightly.

"I mean, they couldn't wait to operate. I got home from the hospital at 11:30 that night, and I was back there the next day at 7 a.m."

But nearly five months later, before the first pitch yesterday, Griffey made his own prediction.

"After the game," he told former Mariners first baseman Alvin Davis, "come in and pour some champagne on me."

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