Fassero hides O's broom Mariner sweeps aside O's scoring chances to close deficit to 2-1

'Due' Johnson on deck

Winner doesn't let O's start battering bullpen until down 4-0 in 9th

Game 3, Mariners 4, Orioles 2

October 05, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Yesterday was supposed to be about a stirring sweep, at least that was the argument being made by the brooms that sprouted in every section of Camden Yards. It was supposed to be about a second straight return to the American League Championship Series, according to the sheathed plastic above every locker in the home clubhouse.

This was supposed to be about Jimmy Key, vanilla ice come playoff time, clinching the third postseason series of his career.

Instead, the Orioles did everything early to lose Game 3 of the Division Series, 4-2, and Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Jeff Fassero did everything early, late and in between to save his team for another day.

"To be down 2-love was not a good situation," said Mariners right fielder Jay Buhner, who homered for the second time in the Division Series to prod a telling two-run ninth inning. "We feel a little bit better about ourselves right now. We'll just see what happens."

The Mariners left Camden Yards down 2-1 with the Big Unit on deck. The Orioles still hold a monstrous advantage, given the return of both Mike Mussina and Scott Erickson (if needed) on three days' rest. They also are comforted by the fact that no team has ever recovered from losing the first two games at home in a best-of-five.

However, the Mariners today bring back Randy Johnson on short rest instead of feeding rookie Ken Cloude into the rotation.

At some point, barring a rainless rain delay, sudden power outage or other unnatural disaster, the Mariners believe the law of averages must work in the Big Unit's favor.

"We didn't want to face [Johnson] again. We didn't want to play another game. You never want to give somebody another chance," left fielder B. J. Surhoff said. "But we never thought it would be easy just because we won two games."

Fassero made it downright impossible. A breaking-ball left-hander -- Kryptonite to the Orioles -- Fassero teased the hyperventilating Orioles with two early scoring opportunities, slammed their fingers with escape acts in the first and third innings, then danced away with a 4-0 lead after eight-plus innings and 136 pitches.

"We had our chances, but he made great pitches. But he is one of the top 20 pitchers in the world, so what can I say?" said designated hitter Geronimo Berroa, part of both early rallies that died.

The Orioles stranded six runners. Five were left in the first and third innings when Fassero stoned the middle of the lineup and turned the game. The Orioles put runners at first and second with one out in the first inning and got nothing. They put runners at second and third in the third with no outs and got the same.

To escape the first, Fassero caused Palmeiro to ground out, then got Surhoff with the bases loaded thanks to his biggest break of the day. Surhoff grounded a 3-2 pitch back to the mound. Fassero blocked the ball with his foot, but then had trouble locating it. He recovered in time to nick Surhoff by a half-step. Asked if the play seemed in slow motion, Surhoff thought it more like "a panic."

"Finally, I ran out of places to look, so I looked down," Fassero said. "It's a good thing my foot got in the way."

The third inning hurt even worse. Brady Anderson singled and took third on Roberto Alomar's double to left field. Berroa struck out on a low ball. Palmeiro grounded to Fassero, who trapped Anderson off third for the second out. Then Cal Ripken struck out on a 2-2 pitch. Berroa, Palmeiro, Ripken and Surhoff finished 1-for-13. The same four were 7-for-16 in Game 2. Manager Davey Johnson called the lost opportunity "deflating."

Ripken credited Fassero's forkball. Berroa questioned the team's preparation. "I had never seen him before," Berroa said. "I had no idea what he threw. I didn't even know he threw a forkball."

At least they know what they'll be seeing today. Surhoff refers to Johnson as the Mariners' "equalizer." If so, Fassero is their savior.

"He pitched a great game. You have to give him credit," said Palmeiro, who grounded out in both the abortive first- and third-inning rallies. "He had a great breaking pitch. He put it where he needed to. When a guy pitches that well, there's not a whole lot you can do."

The Orioles managed only three hits and four walks against Fassero. However, after six of the first 11 batters reached, Fassero retired 18 in a row.

The Orioles had disposed of the Mariners' first two starters after a combined 9 2/3 innings, then ripped apart their weak-kneed bullpen. Mariners manager Lou Piniella showed appropriate confidence in Fassero -- and his bullpen -- by allowing his starter to go a season-high 136 pitches after needing 70 just to clear the first three innings.

When the Orioles finally got into the Mariners' bullpen in the ninth, they ripped Heathcliff Slocumb for two hits, including Jeffrey Hammonds' two-run, two-out double that brought pinch hitter Harold Baines to the plate representing the tying run.

Fassero had pitched so well for so long that Piniella accused Johnson of late gamesmanship.

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