Seattle on unfamiliar losing end

Indians triumph, 5-0, over Mariners in start of AL division playoffs

Loss follows 116-win season

Colon overmatches Seattle by allowing 6 hits in 8 innings

October 10, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE -- If the Seattle Mariners developed an aura of invulnerability on the way to tying the major-league record with 116 regular-season victories, somebody should have told Cleveland Indians pitcher Bartolo Colon.

The hard-throwing right-hander dominated the supposedly indomitable Mariners for eight innings yesterday on the way to a 5-0 playoff victory that shook sold-out Safeco Field to its foundation.

It was supposed to be a mismatch, and it was, but it was the Mariners hitters who were overmatched in the first game of their best-of-five American League Division Series. Colon scattered six hits and combined with reliever Bob Wickman on the first shutout defeat suffered by the Mariners since Orioles pitchers Calvin Maduro and Buddy Groom combined on a six-hitter against them on Aug. 31 at Camden Yards.

Considering the importance of every game in such a short playoff series, anxious Mariners fans are suddenly faced with the possibility that their dream season might be over before the week is out, but the Mariners have proven over the course of the season that they can come back from a series-opening loss.

"I would say `Don't panic,' " said Seattle second baseman Bret Boone. "We've come too far, played too well and the guys in this room, their character is just too good. It's natural [to be concerned], but what's important is how the people in this room feel. I know they are not worried about it. Cleveland feels good right now and they should, but this team has come back too many times for this to be any different."

The Mariners lost the opening game of a series 16 times during the regular season and came back to win 10 of those series and split two.

"If our team could be affected by just one loss," said American League batting champion Ichiro Suzuki, who had three of Seattle's six hits, "we could not have won 116 games."

Still, the specter of losing the opener of a best-of-five series at home has to hang over the Mariners as they take today off before returning to Safeco Field for Game 2 tomorrow. They had their most overpowering pitcher on the mound yesterday, and AL ERA champion Freddy Garcia unraveled in a three-run fourth inning that decided the game.

Former Oriole Roberto Alomar opened the inning with a double into the gap in left-center field, and six Indians reached base before Garcia retired a batter. Juan Gonzalez drove in the first run of the game with a broken-bat single to center and Cleveland added two other runs on RBI singles by Travis Fryman and Marty Cordova.

The Indians were on the verge of turning the game into a blowout when Garcia collected himself and worked out of a bases-loaded, no-out situation to keep the Mariners in range of a late-inning comeback that would never materialize.

Cleveland catcher Einar Diaz drove in an insurance run with an infield single in the sixth, and veteran outfielder Ellis Burks rounded out the scoring with a leadoff home run in the eighth.

Colon entered the game with a 3-5 lifetime mark against the Mariners and was winless in two starts against them this year, but he struck out 10 and walked only two on the way to his second victory in three career postseason decisions.

Garcia, who would be a strong Cy Young Award candidate this year if not for the impressive 20-3 performance by virtually certain Hall of Famer Roger Clemens, had won his only decision against the Indians this year and closed out an 18-6 season with four victories in his last five decisions.

The Mariners finished the regular season 25 games better than the Indians, who finished a respectable 91-71 in the American League Central. The Mariners also won five of seven head-to-head games against Cleveland, so it was no surprise that they entered the postseason as a decided favorite to survive the divisional round.

"The Mariners, they've had a big season," said Indians manager Charlie Manuel. "Look at 116 wins. They won 25 more ballgames than us. Why shouldn't somebody think they might be the better team? But like I said before, that's what makes baseball fun.

"That's what makes people try to predict what's going to happen, but when you get down to it and play the game on the field, anytime you get in the playoffs ... you're starting off 0-0. You're not chasing somebody. You've got the same chance."

And, as Colon proved yesterday, it only takes one great pitching performance to make a great team look bad.

The Mariners hope to rebound tomorrow behind 20-game winner Jamie Moyer, who will face Indians left-hander Chuck Finley in what shapes up as a must-win situation for Seattle. The Mariners probably can afford to go to Cleveland with the series even -- considering their major-league-best 59-22 road record this year -- but an 0-2 deficit probably would signal an early end to their amazing season.

"Our approach continues to be the same," said Mariners catcher Dan Wilson. "We saw a tough pitcher today and, come Thursday, we have Finley. We've got to get ready for that."

They did not face a lot of must-win situations during their runaway season and have not responded in the two games laden with the most incentive so far. They lost Sunday in their bid to break the all-time record for victories (which they share with the 1906 Chicago Cubs) and they went down hard yesterday. Game 2 obviously will be the most pressure-filled game of their season.

"I don't think that we've had [a game so important]," said manager Lou Piniella, "but we'll be ready to play Thursday. We came back from losing the opening game of series all year and did well. So I have the utmost confidence that we'll bounce back on Thursday."

Baseball playoffs

Today's games

AL Division Series Oakland (Mulder 21-8) at New York (Clemens 20-3), 8:17 p.m., chs. 45, 5

NL Division Series

Atlanta (Glavine 16-7) at Houston (Mlicki 7-3), 1:12 p.m. (Fox Family)

St. Louis (W.Williams 15-9) at Arizona (Johnson 21-6), 4:20 p.m. (Fox Family)

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