Piniella set to write script without 'pen

October 05, 1997|By John Eisenberg

Mariners manager Lou Piniella has settled on a new approach to trying to beat the Orioles in their American League Division Series.

He's going to pretend that the airline lost his bullpen during his cross-country trip from Seattle after Game 2.

That's right, he's going to tell everyone that he checked his relief pitchers at the ticket counter along with the rest of his luggage, boarded his flight and flew east to Baltimore only to discover that the airline had mistakenly sent his 'pen west -- to Indonesia.

And the next flight back? Funny (Lou will say), but it isn't until November, after the playoffs are over.

In other words, he is going to go with his starting pitchers until their arms fall off.

Jeff Fassero threw 136 pitches over eight innings yesterday in leading the Mariners to a 4-2 victory in Game 3 at Camden Yards, and the smart money says Randy Johnson might throw 190 or maybe even 250 in Game 4 today before Piniella even begins thinking about making a change and digging into his flammable bullpen.

And when reporters ask him about avoiding his relievers, who have had a rough time, Piniella will smile and say, "You know what, I can't believe I tipped that luggage guy five bucks and he still lost 'em. I wonder how those guy are doin'?"

Piniella will resort to pulling Johnson today if the Big Unit gets arrested on the mound and carted away by Baltimore's finest, or if he suffers a catastrophic injury handling the resin bag, or if he makes a sudden and stunning career change and becomes a TV antenna.

But absent all that, Johnson will be on the mound, period.

He won't get tired because, well, he can't get tired.

Why?

Because as much as Piniella might wish that his relievers really had been sent to Indonesia, they did make the trip from Seattle to Baltimore.

They were back in the bullpen yesterday at Camden Yards, in fact, and back in action again late in the game, trying to blow a seemingly sure win after Fassero had pitched a masterpiece into the ninth inning.

Piniella went to the 'pen after Fassero walked Geronimo Berroa on four pitches to start the bottom of the ninth. The Mariners were up, 4-0.

In came Heathcliff Slocumb, the closer obtained in a trade from Boston in July.

He immediately allowed a single to Rafael Palmeiro, then gave up a two-out, two-run double to Jeffrey Hammonds, bringing pinch hitter Harold Baines to the plate as the tying run.

Slocumb managed to retire Baines on a popup to finish the game, but it was hardly the kind of performance that might restore Piniella's faith in his bullpen.

In the first three games of the series, the six relievers that Piniella has used have a combined 10.88 ERA.

And you're wondering why they have been lost in transit, figuratively speaking.

After their performance in Game 2, in which they turned a 2-1 lead into a 9-3 loss, they were reduced to a still-life painting yesterday as they sat in the warm, early evening air.

They were so motionless throughout the 206-minute game, in fact, that it appeared they were trying to win a "How long can you hold your breath?" bet.

Fassero struggled in the early innings, seemingly raising the likelihood that Piniella would have to suddenly find his lost luggage and dig into his 'pen -- but Piniella never picked up the phone and the bullpen grass and mounds remained a barren landscape.

Meanwhile, it took Fassero 30 pitches to escape a bases-loaded jam in the first, and then it took him another 22 pitches to get out of the third without allowing a run after Brady Anderson and Roberto Alomar had reached third and second with none out.

"At that point, I was thinking I would get no more than seven innings from Jeff," Piniella said. "He had just thrown so many pitches to get to that point."

But then either he settled down or the Orioles' hitters became impatient -- or both -- and suddenly he began to cruise.

After needing 85 pitches to record his first 12 outs, he needed only 47 to record his next 12 outs.

"The key to the game," Piniella said, "was the way Jeff started getting through innings without having to throw many pitches."

That was the key to the game, all right, after watching Slocumb's shaky ninth.

The longer Piniella sticks with his starter, the better the Mariners' chances.

Of course, Piniella insisted after the game that he was still confident in his bullpen, perfectly happy, thrilled, etc.

Asked if he had become afraid to pick up the phone and dial his 'pen, Piniella said, "No, not at all. It was just that Jeff had just pitched 60 or 70 pitches in his last start, so it was his day to go long. He was well-rested today."

Johnson can't say the same after throwing 100 pitches and struggling in his Game 1 loss four days ago.

Not that that will matter.

Johnson won't come out unless a playful teammate accidentally twists his vaunted left arm into a pretzel during a pre-game prank, rendering the arm limp.

Even then, Piniella might still try to win with the Big Unit rather than resort to his bullpen.

The airlines lost those guys, anyway, right?

Pub Date: 10/05/97

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