Moyer's elbow injury puts major strain on Mariners' rotation No. 2 starter likely out, team may turn to Cloude

October 03, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE -- Seattle Mariners left-hander Jamie Moyer was a couple of good innings away from becoming a playoff hero yesterday. He needed just a few more outs to complete his amazing two-year transition from struggling journeyman to star pitcher, but his arm gave out just as his magic moment was about to arrive.

Moyer worked into the fifth inning and appeared to be succeeding where superstar Randy Johnson had failed the night before, but he walked off the mound with a strained left elbow and left a gaping hole in the Mariners' postseason rotation.

"You work your whole life to get to a certain point," Moyer said, his voice close to cracking, "and it just doesn't work out. If it was meant to be, it was meant to be. You just have to take the next step forward."

The short-term impact was almost immediate. Roberto Alomar greeted reliever Paul Spoljaric with a two-run double that gave the Orioles the lead and propelled them to a 9-3 victory that left the Mariners one loss away from elimination in the best-of-five American League Division Series. The long-term consequences could be just as important.

The injury will be re-evaluated today, but it appears likely that the Mariners will have to replace Moyer with Baltimore-born rookie Ken Cloude, who would start at Camden Yards in either Game 4 on Sunday or a decisive Game 5 on Monday if the series goes that far.

Piniella isn't holding out much hope. Moyer suffered the same kind of injury during spring training and was sidelined for a month. He didn't make his first regular-season start until late April.

"Spring training was a month or so and it's a similar thing," Piniella said. "He was throwing the ball very well. It's a tough break for him and us."

Moyer had given up one run on three hits through the first four innings, the only blemish a bases-empty home run by Orioles designated hitter Harold Baines in the second.

He began experiencing discomfort in his elbow in the fourth inning, but got through the heart of the Orioles' lineup after giving up a leadoff single to Rafael Palmeiro. The problem intensified in the fifth, and Moyer began to struggle with his control.

"In the fifth inning, it got to the point where it was starting to hurt and I couldn't finish my pitches off," Moyer said. "That's the reason I was up in the zone. There was some pain there."

The former Oriole gave up a leadoff single to Baines, but got Lenny Webster to hit into a double play. He gave up another single to Mike Bordick, then walked Brady Anderson and threw one pitch to Alomar before Piniella came out to see what was wrong.

The Mariners led 2-1 when Moyer left the game, but he was charged with the two runs that scored when Alomar's long fly ball off Spoljaric glanced off the wrist of leaping center fielder Ken Griffey and turned the game around.

"That first pitch to Alomar, he didn't follow through at all," Piniella said of Moyer. "That led me to believe that something was wrong. He said his elbow was bothering him. He wanted to stay in the game, to his credit."

Team doctor Larry Pedegana said that tests revealed no serious injury. He left open the possibility of a more favorable outlook after Moyer is re-examined today, but it appears highly probable that his season is over.

The odds already are stacked heavily against the Mariners. No major-league team has come back to win a best-of-five series after losing the first two games at home. Now, even if they can fight back, they figure to be at a serious disadvantage in the

game Cloude starts.

Moyer won 17 games in the regular season and closed out 1997 with six victories in his final seven decisions. Cloude made a nice first impression with a 4-2 record in nine starts down the stretch, but he'll have to grow up in a hurry to excel in such a pressure-packed situation.

Piniella is no stranger to such hard choices. He sent rookie Bob Wolcott to the mound in the first game of the 1995 AL Championship Series and came away with a huge victory, but the Mariners eventually lost in six games to the Cleveland Indians.

"If the situation arises, I'll be ready," said Cloude, a McDonogh graduate who defeated the Orioles, 8-3, on Aug. 15 at Camden Yards for his first major-leage win. "You don't ever want something to happen like that to him when we need him so bad, but we've battled all year. We'll battle back. The point now is getting to that [fifth] game."

Pub Date: 10/03/97

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