Soriano's 2-run HR in ninth lifts N.Y.

Dramatic blast sinks Mariners, 3-1, gives Yanks 3-1 series lead

October 22, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - It took awhile, but the New York Yankees were able to shrug off the worst postseason loss in franchise history.

It took eight innings, to be exact.

The Yankees' offense was silent until Bernie Williams hit a game-tying home run in the eighth and rookie second baseman Alfonso Soriano launched a two-run shot in the ninth to carry the three-time defending world champions to a 3-1 victory over the stunned Seattle Mariners in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium.

Now, the Yankees need only ride the dependable left arm of veteran pitcher Andy Pettitte to close out the series in the Bronx tonight and reach the World Series for the fourth straight year.

Left-hander Aaron Sele, who is winless in six career postseason starts, could be the last hope to keep the Mariners' amazing season alive.

Starting pitchers Roger Clemens and Paul Abbott combined to give up one single through the first five innings, and the two pitching staffs combined to set a playoff record with 15 walks. But, for all the base runners, the game was scoreless until Mariners second baseman Bret Boone launched a bases-empty home run with two outs in the top of the eighth inning.

That figured to be it, considering the way the Mariners' bullpen has been pitching in the late innings, but Williams answered in kind with a home run off former Orioles reliever Arthur Rhodes to tie the game 1-1 in the bottom of the inning.

Enter Japanese closer Kazuhiro Sasaki. Exit baseball, stage right.

The same bullpen that looked so overpowering in the final games of the Division Series against the Cleveland Indians suddenly shrank in the spotlight of baseball's most intimidating venue.

The Mariners need to win tonight to make good on manager Lou Piniella's "guarantee" that the series would return to Seattle, but they face a much bigger challenge to validate their record-tying, 116-win regular season.

They must win out.

The Yankees really didn't know what to expect out of five-time Cy Young Award winner Clemens, except a warrior-like performance to overcome the sore hamstring that has hampered him throughout the postseason.

Clemens had fluid drained from his swollen right leg on Saturday and conceded that the soreness had been affecting his control, but he pitched well enough to get the Yankees through Game 1 and again rose above the injury to duel Abbott to a standoff in the early innings.

Clemens was throwing hard enough to strike out seven batters in five innings and hold the Mariners hitless until first baseman John Olerud grounded a single through the infield to lead off the fourth. He worked through the fifth without giving up a run, but clearly was not the same Clemens who won 20 of his first 21 decisions during the regular season and guaranteed himself another Cy Young plaque.

He walked four batters in the first three innings and gave up several hard-hit balls, but that Yankees good fortune that had disappeared in Saturday's 14-3 loss smiled on him anew - and all of the well-struck balls were hit right into New York gloves.

Still, Clemens managed to make a little history. When he struck out Ichiro Suzuki to lead off the game, it was his 46th in American League Championship Series play, eclipsing the record held by Orioles Hall of Famer Jim Palmer. He left last night's game with a career ALCS total of 52.

Meanwhile, Abbott also was trying to etch his name into the postseason record book. He came into the game considered the weakest link in the Mariners' starting rotation, but he carried a no-hitter through five innings and gave the Mariners every opportunity to get after Clemens.

His performance wasn't pretty. He walked eight batters, but he was resourceful enough to get out of trouble on several occasions. Catcher Tom Lampkin helped him out in the second by throwing out Williams on a steal attempt and threw out Jorge Posada later in the same inning when the Yankees' catcher tried to advance on a dirt pitch that dribbled away from home plate.

Abbott got two soft outs after walking two batters in the third inning and got Paul O'Neill on a routine grounder in a similar situation in the fourth.

He tempted fate again in the fifth when he handed one-out walks to Soriano and Chuck Knoblauch to run right into the heart of the Yankees' batting order. And again he escaped, getting Derek Jeter to pop out to right field and David Justice to end the inning with a bouncer to second.

Piniella had to feel like he had walked out of Fort Knox with an armload, because he didn't hesitate to pull Abbott after the fifth inning and bring on reliever Norm Charlton - no-hitter or not.

There were a lot of questions before yesterday's game about how each team would react after the Mariners' blowout victory in Game 3. The Mariners, obviously, wanted to build on the momentum they developed in the record offensive performance. The Yankees tried to give the impression that they already had forgotten about it.

"Your momentum is as good as your next day's starting pitcher," said Yankees manager Joe Torre.

He was right, of course. Neither team displayed any momentum during the early innings of Game 4, because Clemens and Abbott - in spite of their respective control problems - were able to suck the life out of the two offensive lineups.

The real intrigue developed after Torre and Piniella turned it into a battle of the bullpens in the sixth.

Charlton gave up a ground-rule double to Tino Martinez for the first New York hit of the game, and Piniella ordered an intentional walk to Posada before bringing on former Yankees reliever Jeff Nelson.

The suspense built to a crescendo as Nelson walked pinch hitter Shane Spencer to load the bases and fell behind on the count to veteran third baseman Scott Brosius. But Nelson made the big pitch when he needed it, getting Brosius to ground into a double play to keep the game scoreless.

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