Suzuki brings it home for Mariners

6-2 win over Indians sends series to Game 5

October 15, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND - It was only Saturday afternoon that Charlie Manuel deadpanned how he manages best when he manages least.

Yesterday's 6-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners before a stunned, even angry Jacobs Field crowd might cause the Cleveland Indians' manager to reconsider his position.

Nine outs from completing one of the most unlikely feats in postseason history, the Indians unraveled behind their suddenly ineffective starting pitcher and a slow-hand manager during an unsightly seventh inning that may well have turned a Division Series.

Able to transform a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead, the Mariners evened the best-of-five series to force today's deciding game in Seattle.

Mariners right fielder and American League batting champion Ichiro Suzuki turned the game with a tie-breaking, two-out single off Indians right-hander Bartolo Colon, who had held a one-run lead produced by right fielder Juan Gonzalez's second-inning home run.

The Division Series format causes a manager dyspepsia because it allows for only the smallest margin of error. New York Yankees manager Joe Torre said last week he has never felt comfortable in the playoffs' first round. Manuel discovered why in the seventh inning yesterday when he was convicted for possessing a first-timer's indecisive trigger finger.

"We had six real good innings and all of a sudden things started happening to us and we ended up getting beat," said Manuel.

Colon created his mess by allowing a leadoff walk to John Olerud and a slapped single to left field by Stan Javier. A bizarre pickoff attempt of Olerud sailed into center field, giving the runner third base. A walk to Mike Cameron loaded the bases.

Needing only 51 pitches to get through five innings, Colon would need 48 to get his last five outs. He got one on a fielder's choice on which first baseman Jim Thome stopped the tying run at home. Third baseman David Bell created a 1-1 game with a foul sacrifice fly.

With two outs and runners at first and second, Manuel had three options: intentionally pass Suzuki, remove Colon for left-handed reliever Ricardo Rincon or allow Colon to pitch his way out of trouble. As he trudged to the mound with Suzuki approaching, Manuel remained undecided.

Manuel later explained himself with a down-home stream of consciousness. He said he didn't consider intentionally walking Suzuki, the league's most dangerous clutch hitter. He said he contemplated removing Colon. Then he thought he'd listen to what his pitcher had to say.

"I was thinking about where the runners were at with two outs. I was thinking about bringing Rincon in. But once I walked to the mound, all these things were going through my mind," he said. "And once I saw that he wanted to pitch and he wanted to stay out there, we still had a 1-1 game. I thought, `Here's my best pitcher, [against] the league's leading hitter. He's still throwing good, and he was going to get him out.' "

Manuel's hunch went counter to Colon's eroding command as well as the left-handed-hitting Suzuki's 8-for-14 success this season against the Indians' ace. Suzuki also led the American League in batting with runners in scoring position.

"He was throwing balls, [but] he was still close to the plate," said Manuel, who watched Colon miss with three pitches before Bell's sacrifice fly. "That was one reason I decided to leave him in. Although he was throwing some balls, it was still around the plate, and he had good stuff."

Managing in the postseason for a sixth year, the Mariners' Lou Piniella was asked if he thought Suzuki was his best hitter for the situation.

"He's got 244 [actually, 242] hits during the regular season and, what, 10 [actually, 9] in the playoffs? So, the answer is yes," Piniella said.

If there is any player impervious to pressure in a potentially season-ending game, it is Suzuki. He played his rookie major-league season as a symbol for Japanese baseball - a seven-time batting champion overseas who validated his own and many of his countrymen's credentials.

"I think he becomes real dangerous. It doesn't matter who's pitching," said Manuel.

"The game was already tied, and my at-bat was just like the regular season," said Suzuki. "I've had pressure on my shoulders all the time. In a lot of pressure situations, my mental situation is as normal as possible."

When Suzuki slipped a single between first and second base, Cameron scored for a 2-1 lead. The Indians' manager stayed with Colon against shortstop Mark McLemore, and was burned again when the inning's fourth single scored the inning's third run. Finally, Manuel had seen enough.

Mariners starting pitcher and American League ERA champion Freddy Garcia was hardly less brilliant than Colon through six innings. Except for Gonzalez's home run, he allowed one runner to second base and walked one.

Gonzalez began the seventh inning with a routine-looking fly ball to center field. However, a clearing sky created a glare that prevented Cameron from picking up the drive until it was too late. Gonzalez's ball fell behind him for a double before a right-side ground ball advanced Gonzalez to third.

The extra out became significant when Travis Fryman scored Gonzalez with a one-out ground ball to make it a 3-2 game.

At 4-2 in the ninth, the game lost its definition when Seattle designated hitter Edgar Martinez hit a first-pitch fastball from reliever Paul Shuey 458 feet for a two-run homer.

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