Put to test, Mariners pass, 3-1

Seattle completes rally from 2-1 series deficit vs. Cleveland

Baseball

October 16, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE - The Seattle Mariners breezed through the regular season so effortlessly that there was some question how they might respond if things did not go well in the playoffs.

They were never sorely tested on the way to a record-tying 116 victories, so who could predict what would happen after the Cleveland Indians dealt them one of the most lopsided defeats in playoff history Saturday and pushed them to the limit in the best-of-five American League Division Series?

The Mariners simply rose to the occasion, winning Sunday in Cleveland to push the series back to Safeco Field and scoring a suspenseful 3-1 victory in Game 5 yesterday to advance to the AL Championship Series for the second year in a row.

Once again, it was the steady hand of former Orioles pitcher Jamie Moyer that pulled them away from the precipice. The 38-year-old left-hander produced a near carbon copy of the strong Game 2 performance that leveled the series after the Indians won the opener in Seattle.

Moyer pitched six innings and gave up just a run on three hits, earning his second postseason victory with the help of a clutch two-run single by Mark McLemore and a typically overpowering performance by the deep Mariners bullpen.

Now, no one can say that this team has not been tested. The Mariners bounced back from Saturday's 17-2 wakeup call to win the final two games of the series - the decisive game an intense, dramatic affair that had the sellout crowd of 47,867 emotionally involved from the very first play.

"I think it shows a little bit more of what we're made of," Moyer said. "[It's true] that we probably didn't go through any spells where we really had to win a game at any certain time."

Of course, Moyer is no stranger to adversity. He spent the early part of his career as a fringe pitcher whose record was well below .500 before he engineered an impressive turnaround in Seattle. This year, he became the oldest pitcher in baseball history to win 20 games for the first time in his career.

Now this.

He completely befuddled the big-swinging Indians lineup during his two starts in the Division Series, just as he had in two starts during the regular season. In those four starts, he allowed just three runs in 26 innings and finished with a combined 4-0 record and 1.04 ERA.

"Cleveland has some really good fastball hitters," said Mariners manager Lou Piniella. "And unless you can throw the ball up there 93, 94, 95 miles an hour, you're going to have problems. But good fastball hitters invariably are a little more susceptible to the off-speed stuff, and Jamie exploited that exceptionally well."

Moyer only struggled in one inning, allowing a run in the third inning before working out of a bases-loaded, one-out situation by getting second baseman Roberto Alomar to bounce into a routine double play. He retired the final nine batters he faced and struck out the powerful heart of the Cleveland order - Juan Gonzalez, Ellis Burks and Jim Thome - looking in the fourth.

The bullpen did the rest. Setup man Jeff Nelson struck out four of the first five batters he faced. Former Oriole left-hander Arthur Rhodes got the final out of the eighth inning. And closer Kazuhiro Sasaki pitched a perfect ninth to send the Mariners into the second round.

McLemore's two-run single off Indians starter Chuck Finley in the second inning would stand up, but the Mariners added a crucial insurance run when designated hitter Edgar Martinez lined a two-out single to center field off reliever Danys Baez in the seventh.

The Mariners congregated on the field to congratulate each other after the final out, but their clubhouse celebration was respectful and subdued. No champagne. Just beer and a few laughs. Teams are under orders from the commissioner's office to limit post-playoff displays of frivolity in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

"I think with what has been going on in the world, Major League Baseball is just trying to keep things in perspective," said Mariners second baseman Bret Boone. "I think we celebrated on the field. We're excited. This is a big step. We're one step away from the World Series."

The Indians were expected to go quietly into the off-season, but they nearly spoiled one of the greatest single-season performances in the history of the sport. The Mariners tied the 1906 Chicago Cubs for the most regular-season victories, but were on the brink of joining that team - and the 111-win Indians of 1954 - as baseball's biggest postseason busts.

"You get to the final eight and they're all good baseball teams," Piniella said. "I'd like to congratulate Cleveland on how they played. They played well this series.

"This game here, you couldn't ask for a better ballgame. You can have an outstanding year, and all of a sudden you get an injury here or a bad break there and it turns the whole thing around. When you get to the final eight, all these teams are good, solid baseball teams. They all can beat you."

No Most Valuable Player award is given for the Division Series, which probably is a good thing since it would have been tough to choose between Moyer and Mariners leadoff hitter Ichiro Suzuki.

Suzuki finished the series with 12 hits in 20 at-bats to tie teammate Edgar Martinez's record for most hits in a five-game Division Series and establish a record for best batting average (.600) in a five-game divisional playoff.

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