His wait over, now weight is on Fassero Mariners left-hander makes postseason debut in must-win situation

October 04, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Seattle Mariners pitcher Jeff Fassero spent six years with the small-market Montreal Expos, waiting for a chance to pitch in the postseason. Now, the wait is almost over, but it must feel like the weight of the world is resting squarely on his left shoulder.

"We've got a big hill to climb," he said, soon after the Mariners were swept right out of the Kingdome by the Orioles in the first two games of the Division Series. "They came in and took two from us, but who's to say we can't go and take three straight from them."

Well, history for one. No major-league team ever has lost the first two games of a best-of-five series at home and come back to stave off elimination. Fassero has to get the Mariners through today, then hope that Randy Johnson and rookie Ken Cloude can complete an improbable three-game sweep at Camden Yards.

Fassero certainly is capable. He won 16 games during the regular season and finished with seven victories in his final 10 decisions. He gave up as many as three runs only once in his six September starts and gave up three hits over eight innings in his only 1997 start against the Orioles.

Meanwhile, left-hander Jimmy Key struggled down the stretch and lost eight of his final nine decisions at Camden Yards.

Advantage Seattle?

Not necessarily. Key is a playoff-hardened veteran who has a history of pitching well in pressure games. Fassero has never been in the postseason. The closest he ever came was in 1994, when the surprising Expos carried the best record in baseball into August, only to have the season cut short by the players' strike.

That disappointment has made Fassero determined to enjoy his playoff experience this year, even though the Mariners are in a sudden-death situation and the Orioles appear to have all the momentum.

"This means a lot to me," Fassero said. "In '94, we were six games ahead of Atlanta, which was picked to be the best team in the division. We were starting to pull away from them when the strike hit. This is an honor to get to the postseason.

"It seems like everyone left from that '94 [Expos] team has made it to the playoffs since they left. [Larry] Walker, Marquis Grissom and this year [Moises] Alou and myself have had the opportunity to play in the postseason. It's just great to come over from a team that had always been close but was never able to get over the hump to a team that is in the postseason."

Fassero didn't figure on being in a must-win situation, but Mariners ace Johnson came up short Wednesday and Game 2 starter Jamie Moyer came up with a sore elbow, leaving Fassero to stand in the way of a humbling three-game sweep.

"I don't want to put any pressure on myself because it seems that when you put pressure on yourself, you go out and pitch a bad game," Fassero said. "I just want to go out there relaxed and throw my game. I'm not worried about what's happened in the past."

Key dismissed his disappointing stretch run and disputed the notion that he is wearing down after his first full season since 1993, choosing instead to fall back on his postseason experience -- which is significant. He is a combined 5-2 in eight playoff and World Series starts, including a victory over the Orioles in last year's ALCS.

"I feel pretty good," he said. "There's nothing wrong with me except for a little problem with my location in a few starts, but I feel great. I'm just going to try and feed off my playoff


Pub Date: 10/04/97

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