Late riser Moyer tries to wake M's

Lefty, 38, found groove after rebirth with Orioles

Baseball

October 11, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE - There is no clear-cut explanation for it. Seattle Mariners pitcher Jamie Moyer spent the first half of his professional baseball career waiting for something to go right. He has spent the second half proving everybody wrong.

Moyer, who will carry the weight of the Mariners' world title hopes to the mound at Safeco Field today when he tries to prevent the Cleveland Indians from taking a two-game lead in this best-of-five American League Division Series, can't really tell you how a 38-year-old left-hander who has played for 16 different professional teams has emerged as one of baseball's most effective pitchers.

He went 20-6 to lead the winningest team in American League history in victories. He might have been the game's best pitcher in the second half, with an 11-2 record and 2.22 ERA.

It all seems so strange when you consider the state that his career was in when he signed with the Orioles as a six-year minor-league free agent after the 1992 season. He owned a 34-54 major-league record in parts of six seasons and his continued presence was considered an illustration of the industry's desperate shortage of adequate left-handed pitching.

The Orioles' organization looked like it might be a last chance. It turned out to be a new beginning.

"I had a lot of great opportunities during the course of my career, and they haven't all worked out to my liking," Moyer said yesterday. "But getting another opportunity in Baltimore was great. I think we all in life need opportunities, and I got a great opportunity in Baltimore and I felt I was able to take advantage of that."

He earned a place in the Orioles' 1993 starting rotation with six straight victories at Triple-A Rochester, then went 12-9 in 25 starts at the major-league level. His next two seasons were unspectacular, but he delivered a breakout 13-3 performance with the Boston Red Sox and Mariners in 1996.

The rest is a story of perseverance rewarded. Moyer won 17 games in 1997 and has been considered one of the most dependable left-handed starters in either league in his 5 1/2 seasons in Seattle.

"I think a lot of things I've learned in my past, whether they've been good experiences or bad experiences, have helped me and helped propel me to learn more about myself and more about the game," he said. "And I really feel like I've been able to benefit."

The Mariners are not complaining either. Moyer ranks second in club history in winning percentage with an 85-40 career record. He isn't the flashiest pitcher in the Mariners' rotation, but he clearly has been a stabilizing influence on the young Mariners' staff since the departure of superstar Randy Johnson in 1998.

"He's just a guy who resurrected his career," said teammate Jay Buhner. "He's a guy who was stuck in a negative situation and then got into a comfortable environment. Once he started getting the ball every fifth day, what he has done speaks for itself."

Or as teammate and fellow former Oriole Mark McLemore said: "You have to hope he's not hitting his spots, hope he makes a mistake. There's a lot of hoping going on when you face him."

Most of the veterans in the Mariners' lineup know what that's like, because Moyer played for four other teams before the Red Sox traded him to the Mariners in 1996.

"The [stuff] Jamie throws up there is amazing," Buhner said. "I take my hat off to him. He's a great second-half pitcher who won 20 games this year. It's going to be a little different look for [the Indians] after facing Freddy [Garcia]."

In their 5-0 Game 1 win, the Indians had pretty good luck against Garcia, a hard-throwing right-hander who led the AL in ERA. They'll have to make a significant speed adjustment to have the same success against Moyer.

Moyer (one earned run in 14 innings against Cleveland) has never faced a situation this pressure-packed, but claims that he'll be able to keep his emotions dialed down during today's game.

"I'm not going to put any added pressure on myself," he said. "I feel it's important just to prepare and be myself and stay in my own character and be aggressive and pitch to my style. Not try to be Freddy, or Aaron [Sele] or John Halama or anybody else. Just try to be myself and go out and give my best effort."

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