Piniella sees talent, not ghosts, at stadium

Yankees' `mystique' is overblown, he says

hobbling O'Neill homers

ALCS notebook

October 23, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Give Seattle Mariners manager Lou Piniella credit, at least for being stubborn. Even as his team moved inexorably toward elimination in the American League Championship Series, he continued yesterday to deny the existence of the vaunted New York Yankees' "mystique."

"There really isn't any," Piniella said. "That's what people don't understand. You've got to go out and play."

It's a tough sell around here. The Yankees have been baseball's most successful team since Babe Ruth first donned the uniform, and their postseason history - particularly their recent postseason history - is riddled with big comebacks and clutch plays.

"They play human all summer, and then in postseason, they turn it up a notch," Piniella said. "But they can be beaten. They have been a special bunch over here. You give them all the credit. What they have done is unparalleled."

The Yankees' comeback in Game 4 was a good example. Bret Boone appeared to secure the Mariners' second victory of the series with an eighth-inning home run, but Bernie Williams erased the lead with a home run off hard-throwing left-hander Arthur Rhodes in the bottom of the inning and rookie Alfonso Soriano won the game with a two-out ninth-inning home run off Seattle closer Kazuhiro Sasaki.

Call it whatever you want. The Yankees have built a sense of expectation that they will find a way to win in October. Piniella just doesn't want to call it a mystique.

"I don't see any mystique," he said. "I've played here all these years and, yeah, you've got that history and tradition to lean on, but you've still got to go play when the umpire says `Play ball.' That bunch was able to do that and this bunch is able to do that even better."

Gimpy right fielder

Yankees veteran Paul O'Neill has been hobbled for weeks by a fractured bone in his left foot, but manager Joe Torre said he is in no danger of aggravating the injury by playing in the postseason.

"It's sore," Torre said, "but it doesn't keep him from doing what he needs to do in the outfield. ... It could hurt more, but I don't think it is going to limit him any more."

It didn't limit his bat in the fourth inning last night, when he homered to right field to give the Yankees a 5-0 lead.

Stopping Suzuki

It's pretty clear that the Yankees scouted Mariners star Ichiro Suzuki well. They turned his aggressiveness against him in the first few games, keeping the ball out of the strike zone and allowing him to get himself out.

He showed more patience in Game 3, accepting a big walk in the Mariners' game-tying rally, but entered last night's game batting just .231 in the series after hitting .600 against the Cleveland Indians in the Division Series.

"I don't know if there is any one place [to pitch him]," Torre said. "You really have to move the zone around on him because he's too good a hitter and he is going to make adjustments."

The Mariners' Piniella also moved him around on defense.

Suzuki was listed in the original starting lineup as the Mariners' right fielder - his usual position. But when Seattle took the field, Suzuki was in left field for the first time in his major-league career and Jay Buhner was in right.

There is far more territory to cover in left field at Yankee Stadium than in right field.

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