Mariners' gamble pays with 3-2 win Rookie Wolcott gives heavy-hitting Indians the slip for 7 innings

Walks bases full in 1st

Blowers HR, Sojo hit in 7th lift Seattle

October 11, 1995|By PETER SCHMUCK | PETER SCHMUCK,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE -- Everybody knew what was going to happen. The best-hitting team in baseball was matched up against a 22-year-old prospect who by rights should have been watching the American League Championship Series from the stands.

And sure enough, rookie Bob Wolcott gave up eight hits and walked five and had runners all over the place for seven innings.

And won.

The Cleveland Indians may have won 100 games this year. They may have swept the Boston Red Sox in the divisional series. They may have the most dangerous offensive lineup in the game. But they were just another Seattle Mariners' miracle waiting to happen.

Wolcott somehow held the Indians to two runs and Luis Sojo delivered a tie-breaking RBI double in the seventh inning to carry Seattle to an improbable 3-2 victory before a roaring sellout crowd of 57,065 in the first-ever ALCS game at the Kingdome.

This is the kind of thing that has been happening for weeks in Seattle, where the Mariners strung together unlikely win after unlikely win on the way to one of the biggest comebacks in American League history, then pulled off another exciting comeback in the best-of-five divisional playoff against the New York Yankees.

But this may have been the most unlikely of all, considering the strange set of circumstances that put Wolcott on the mound for Game 1. The three-game comeback in the first playoff round left the Mariners' pitching staff without a rested starter for the first game of the ALCS, so manager Lou Piniella and general manager Woody Woodward took a tremendous gamble and activated the rookie right-hander, who had made six starts at the major-league level this year.

It seemed to have little hope of working, but if Wolcott could work into the late innings, the Mariners would have a rested staff for Game 2. If Seattle won -- yeah, right -- then the chemistry of the whole series could change.

That's what happened. Wolcott didn't exactly outduel Indians starter Dennis Martinez, but he found a way to outdo him. It wasn't pretty, but the Mariners and their fans thought it was the most beautiful thing they had ever seen.

Wolcott turned the game over to the Mariners' bullpen in the eighth. Catonsville's Jeff Nelson got a couple outs and turned it over to closer Norm Charlton, who would retire the last four batters and send the Kingdome crazies through the roof.

For three days this past weekend, the Mariners had played a nonstop game of Can You Top This, leaving room to wonder what they could do to maintain the tremendous energy level in the stands. The answer came in the first inning, when Wolcott walked the bases loaded with no outs and then staged his own Mariners-like comeback to escape unscathed.

Wolcott must have wondered what he was doing out there against the most formidable offensive lineup in baseball. Everybody else certainly was. Even Piniella had to be wondering if he made the right decision when the young right-hander missed the strike zone with 12 of his first 13 pitches.

Kenny Lofton walked, then Omar Vizquel and Carlos Baerga, bringing American League home run champion Albert Belle to the plate with a chance to bathe the Kingdome in quiet. He obviously was thinking that way, because he lunged for the first pitch at a point when it was clear that Wolcott could not find the plate.

The crowd went crazy and, as unbelievable as this might sound, it seemed to have a calming effect on Wolcott, who went on to strike out Belle and get veteran Eddie Murray on a popup to third. He needed some defensive help to get the final out of the inning and divisional playoff hero Joey Cora provided it with a diving stab that robbed Jim Thome of a two-run single.

Of course, there was still the small matter of getting through a few more innings and getting a run or two off Martinez, but Wolcott had averted disaster -- and that was enough to make him a Kingdome hero.

Martinez was far more composed, of course. He was pitching in the ALCS when Wolcott was in the first grade, though that didn't make him any less vulnerable to the early-inning Mariners magic. He got through the first inning, but a two-out walk to Jay Buhner in the second cost him two runs when Mike Blowers lined his first home run of the postseason over the center-field fence.

Piniella had said before the game that the Mariners would need to get some postseason production out of the bottom third of the lineup to be in the series, a reference to the fact that Blowers, shortstop Luis Sojo and catcher Dan Wilson batted a combined .182 in the divisional series. Blowers, who had 23 homers and 96 RBIs in the regular season, had just three singles and one RBI in the five games against New York.

Wolcott tempted fate for inning after inning. He worked out of trouble with two runners on in the second inning and allowed four of the first five Cleveland batters to reach base in the third. The Indians got on the board on a one-out RBI single by Thome, but the Mariners got out of a bases-loaded situation when Paul Sorrento bounced into an inning-ending double play.

He stranded eight runners through the first five innings, but that isn't the number they put up on the scoreboard. When Wolcott walked off the mound after the Indians went down in the fifth inning, Piniella's big gamble was a success, no matter what happened after that.

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