After 116, M's seek win No. 1

Record or no, playoffs are new season for Seattle, 7 other teams

Mariners driven yet relaxed

`Great teams' are 'world champions'

NL's 2 series begin

October 09, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE - The Seattle Mariners will get precious little time to bask in the glory of one of the greatest regular-season performances in baseball history. They open the postseason today against the Cleveland Indians at Safeco Field, and not one of their major-league-record-tying 116 victories will count toward the outcome of the best-of-five American League Division Series.

The New York Yankees were in a similar situation in 1998, when they set an American League record with 114 regular-season victories on the way to their first of three straight world titles. The Mariners broke that record last week and tied the 1906 Chicago Cubs for the most wins ever, but they know that they must navigate baseball's three-tiered playoff format to be recognized as one of the greatest teams of all time.

"I think when you talk about the great teams, you're usually talking about world champions," Mariners first baseman John Olerud said, "so that's definitely what we want to do. But that's what you always want to do. That's what everybody wants to do.

"This is what you play the season for - to get to the playoffs. Everybody wants to get to the World Series and win it. This is our opportunity. Anything can happen in a short series, but that's what makes baseball great."

The postseason begins in three locations today. The Arizona Diamondbacks play host to the St. Louis Cardinals at Bank One Ballpark, and the Houston Astros play host to the Atlanta Braves in the two National League Division Series. The Yankees and Oakland Athletics open the other American League Division Series tomorrow night at Yankee Stadium.

Baseball's postseason tournament was pushed back a week in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and will open in the shadow of war. Security will remain heightened at stadiums as the nation braces for the possibility of further terrorist activity, but the playoffs will go on as scheduled.

The Mariners are trying to treat the first round like it is business as usual. They've played with such amazing consistency throughout the regular season that just maintaining their composure might be enough to carry them past an Indians team that had to battle hard just to outdistance the small-market Minnesota Twins in the American League Central.

The M's, meanwhile, outdistanced the 102-win A's by 14 games and came up two runs short Sunday of winning more games than any team ever. If that historic performance has placed added pressure on the Mariners to complete their dream season with a world title, it wasn't apparent in the clubhouse before yesterday's pre-playoff workout.

"We haven't changed since spring training," said American League MVP candidate Bret Boone. "I don't think this team feels the pressure. We've beat every team in the league head-to-head."

The Yankees clearly felt pressure in 1998 to fulfill the promise of their 114-win season, but Mariners reliever Jeff Nelson - who played on all four of the recent Yankees world title teams - said that was partly because they were playing in baseball's greatest pressure cooker.

"There's not as much pressure here," said Nelson, who signed with the Mariners as a free agent last winter. "The pressure with the Yankees was because it was New York, with the media ... the Yankee mystique. They won 114 games and they had to win the World Series. We tied a 95-year-old record, but the pressure to win is not the same."

Boone, however, concedes that the Mariners must win it all to put themselves in the same category as that '98 Yankees team.

"When it's finished and we win the World Series, then we can, but it's not right for us to do that," Boone said. "Until you do that, I don't think you can compare."

Don't misunderstand. The Mariners are not shy about their accomplishments. They have known since the early days of the season that there was something special about their team chemistry. The club shook off the departure of superstar Alex Rodriguez and won 47 of its first 59 games to take a 17-game division lead in the first week of June. The Mariners even amazed themselves.

"I think guys have been talking about it throughout the season," Olerud said. "I don't think anybody was real worried about jinxing ourselves. It's just one of those years when we just have gotten great contributions from a lot of different guys. Our consistency throughout the season has been just awesome."

Manager Lou Piniella expressed mild concern yesterday about the loss of shortstop Carlos Guillen, who was diagnosed recently with tuberculosis, but the Mariners are otherwise at full strength.

The Indians enter the series unburdened by inflated expectations. They have a solid offensive lineup, but their sketchy pitching staff leaves them at a decided disadvantage in the first playoff round. American League ERA leader Freddy Garcia (18-6, 3.05) takes the mound for the Mariners today against 14-12 Indians right-hander Bartolo Colon.

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