On a roll, Mariners set to rock Momentum, loud fans are dome-field advantage

October 01, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE -- Seattle Mariners manager Lou Piniella knows all the numbers. The Orioles dominated the season series. They were undefeated in three regular-season games against Randy Johnson. They finished the season with the American League's best record.

He doesn't seem worried.

"Baltimore has a real good ballclub," he said. "We look forward to the challenge."

And why not? The Mariners finished the regular season on an emotional high. Outfielder Ken Griffey had six home runs in the last 11 games and hit his 56th of the year on the same day that Johnson recorded his 2,000th career strikeout and became the first pitcher in Mariners history to win 20 games. It is a good time to be a baseball fan in Seattle.

There was a time earlier this year when the Orioles would have been considered a prohibitive favorite in a best-of-five series in which they supposedly have the home-field advantage, but they tailed off at the end of the season and arrived in the Pacific Northwest earlier this week with seemingly little momentum.

The Mariners appear to be in position to take quick control of the short Division Series, but here are the five things that have to happen if they are to advance to the AL Championship Series:

1. Johnson has to get revenge.

The Big Unit faced the Orioles three times in the regular season and did not record a victory, instead suffering two losses and a no-decision to drop his career record against them to 3-7.

Nevertheless, the possibility that he could pitch the first and last games of a closely contested series appears to be a huge advantage for the Mariners. Remember, the guy is a combined 43-6 the past three years and was a fierce postseason pitcher during the Division Series in 1995.

2. The offense must keep rolling.

The Mariners' offense must guard against a false sense of security after facing the AL's worst pitching staff for seven of their last nine games of the regular season. The Oakland Athletics were the first team to allow opposing hitters to bat a combined .300 all season since 1939.

That might not turn out to be such a bad thing, however. The Mariners enter the Division Series with their offensive lineup very much in tune, while the Orioles have spent much of the past two months trying to recapture their offensive chemistry.

3. Somebody has to spell relief.

The Mariners' bullpen was such a problem in the first half that the club paid dearly in young talent to acquire three pitchers in a pair of July 31 deals. Since the arrival of Heathcliff Slocumb, Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljaric, the bullpen crisis has passed, but there still is no one out there who hasn't struggled badly at some point this season.

Slocumb has emerged as the full-time closer and has succeeded in 10 of his 11 save opportunities in Seattle, but his reputation as a big-game pitcher is yet to be made, and his 0-9 record and 5.16 ERA have to be cause for concern -- especially when his Orioles counterpart, Randy Myers, is a playoff-hardened veteran who just completed one of his best seasons.

4. Griffey needs to stay in the spotlight.

Center fielder Griffey is coming off one of the best offensive seasons of all time, but he has to start over in the postseason. History says he will show up in his hitting shoes, but his regular-season performance built to a climax during the past couple of weeks, so it remains to be seen whether he can maintain that edge.

5. The Mariners need to make the most of their home-field "disadvantage."

The Kingdome can be intimidating when it's packed with screaming Mariners maniacs, but the Orioles made themselves at home during the regular season, winning four of the five games they played in Seattle.

There has been a lot of talk about the inverse home-field advantage created by the two-on-the-road, three-at-home format, and the Mariners are in position to exploit it with Johnson pitching the opener and 17-game winner Jamie Moyer in Game 2.

Pub Date: 10/01/97

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