Yankees get jump, 4-2

Pettitte pitches N.Y. to win over Mariners in Game 1 of ALCS

`I just had good stuff today'

Starter goes 8 innings, allows 1 run on 3 hits

O'Neill hits 2-run HR

October 18, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | By Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE - The Seattle Mariners had reason to like their chances in the opening game of the American League Championship Series. They had roughed up New York starter Andy Pettitte twice this year and handled the Yankees during the regular season with relative ease.

There was only one problem.

This isn't the regular season.

Pettitte is a different pitcher in October and the Yankees are a different team, two facts that quickly became apparent in their 4-2 victory over the Mariners yesterday at sold-out Safeco Field.

The 29-year-old left-hander gave up one run on three hits over eight innings, and slumping veteran Paul O'Neill provided a two-run home run as the Yankees jumped out first in the best-of-seven series.

No one should be surprised, even though the Mariners scored 15 runs off Pettitte in his two regular-season starts against them. The more relevant number is 16, which is the number of games the Yankees have won in Pettitte's 21 career postseason starts.

"I did have problems with them during the regular season," Pettitte said. "I just had good stuff today. I really felt like I had a good curveball, a better curveball than I've had in a while. I was really able to throw it for strikes whenever I wanted to, I was able to move my fastball around a little bit, and then the big key to when I have success is getting some ground-ball double plays, which I was able to do today."

He carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning and pitched to more than three batters in an inning only once. The Mariners scratched out a run in the fifth, but that was the only time they mounted a serious scoring threat until closer Mariano Rivera gave up a meaningless run in the ninth.

"They've got good starting pitching," said Mariners manager Lou Piniella. "We know that. Our job is to hit their starting pitching. They spend quite a bit of money on it, and it shows."

The Mariners must get by one of the most expensive pitchers in the Yankees' rotation tonight or head to New York at a decided disadvantage. And right-hander Mike Mussina, who was lured away from the Orioles with a six-year deal worth $88.5 million last winter, is coming off an outstanding performance against the Oakland Athletics in the Division Series.

"It'll be another tough game," said Seattle second baseman Bret Boone, "but we've got Freddy [Garcia] going, so we feel pretty good about it."

Mariners starter Aaron Sele did not pitch poorly, but the Yankees took advantage of a leadoff walk in the second inning to nick him for a run. O'Neill increased the lead to 3-0 with his two-run homer to right field in the fourth - the first runs he has driven in this postseason.

If the Mariners want to curse the fates, one of those would not have scored if they had gotten the call on a close play at second base after catcher Jorge Posada opened the fourth with a line drive off the right-field wall. Right fielder Ichiro Suzuki got a great carom off the cement base of the fence and threw a strike to second that appeared to arrive in plenty of time, but the tag by shortstop Carlos Guillen was high and umpire Gary Cederstrom ruled Posada safe.

O'Neill had managed just one double in 11 at-bats in the Division Series after missing much of September with a broken bone in his foot. He had two hits yesterday, also delivering a leadoff single in the sixth in a 2-for-3 afternoon.

The Yankees also got a strong offensive performance from left fielder Chuck Knoblauch, who hit safely in each of his first three at-bats and drove home the game's first run with an infield hit in the second inning.

Meanwhile, American League batting champion Ichiro Suzuki went hitless in his first three at-bats before finally doubling off Rivera in the ninth inning to set up the second Seattle run.

Pettitte appeared to have Suzuki figured out. He worked inside and off the plate to get Suzuki to ground out twice and strike out. Perhaps the Yankees, who were one of two teams to hold Suzuki below a .300 batting average during the regular season, figured out that he will swing at almost anything close to the strike zone.

"Obviously, I know he's a great hitter," Pettitte said. "He's a huge part [of their offense]. If they are going to have success, he gets on. He causes a lot of problems on base when he gets on. I just try to change his eye level and just move the ball around.

"He's got such good hand/eye coordination, I just really wanted to move the ball around and not show two pitches in a row exactly the same. He's a great hitter. You're not going to keep him down, and I was very fortunate to get him out today."

Suzuki rang up a solid double against Rivera in the ninth and scored on two wild pitches.

"Everybody wants to have good results," Suzuki said through an interpreter, "but I always do my best."

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