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Seattle Puts Chicago in Bind as Host's Middle Men Fail

Game 2: Mariners stop big hitters again in 5-2 victory, take 2-0 series lead.


CHICAGO — When the Chicago White Sox bounced back from the brink of defeat in games this year, Manager Jerry Manuel liked to joke they were playing rope-a-dope.

But after they lost, 5-2, to Seattle on Wednesday to go down two games in their best-of-five American League division series, their pulse was weak and the heart of the order was barely beating.

"People have counted us out all year," Manuel said. "We've never been in this situation, down 0-2 going to a team's home field. But we have played good baseball there. Right now, obviously, we're in some trouble."

The trouble can be traced directly to the big hitters, the ones who have flopped miserably so far. Frank Thomas, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Lee and Paul Konerko combined to go 0 for 13 Wednesday and are a combined two for 30 in the two games.

"We don't want to get in a slugging match with the White Sox," Seattle's Alex Rodriguez. "I don't know if it's them struggling or we're making our pitches."

The White Sox wound up with only five hits--three after Ray Durham and Jose Valentin opened the first inning with consecutive doubles. The final five Chicago hitters went down on strikes, including Harold Baines, Charles Johnson and Durham in Mariner closer Kazuhiro Sasaki's 1-2-3 ninth.

They're hitting .209 in the series and looking nothing like the team that led the American League in scoring.

"One glaring thing I've noticed is we've taken a lot of fastballs for strikes and are swinging at bad pitches," hitting coach Von Joshua said. "That's not indicative of our ballclub. They could be a little overanxious."

The White Sox have lost nine consecutive home playoff games dating to the 1959 World Series. Mike Sirotka, pitching for the first time since suffering a hyperextended left elbow in his final regular-season start, went 5 2/3 innings, giving up four runs on seven hits with two walks. One of the runs was unearned, coming after a Valentin error at shortstop.

If the White Sox don't bounce back, Thomas is likely to have the longest off-season of his career. He's 0 for 7 in the series. He stranded four baserunners in Game 2, after stranding five in Game 1.

"This is just very disappointing," Thomas said. "They're not pitching me that tough. I'm just missing balls. This is sad."

The White Sox got the crowd of 45,383 revved up from the outset when Durham doubled over Mike Cameron's head in center field and Valentin doubled him home on the next pitch. Valentin quickly stole third, but Thomas, Lee and Konerko failed to bring him home, rekindling memories of Tuesday's offensive meltdown.

Seattle took advantage of Valentin's error in the second to grab the momentum. Edgar Martinez's leadoff double and a hit batter put two on with none out before Sirotka induced Jay Buhner to hit a chopper to Valentin's right. Instead of throwing to third to force the lead runner, Valentin swiveled and threw wide to second, loading the bases. David Bell's single tied it up and Dan Wilson's sacrifice fly put the Mariners ahead, 2-1.

Valentin began the third with an infield hit, then stole second and advanced to third on Wilson's errant throw. Lee's sacrifice fly tied it, 2-2, but Seattle regained the lead in the fourth on Buhner's homer.

The Mariners manufactured a run in the fifth when Rickey Henderson walked, was bunted to second and stole third with one out. Rodriguez hit a chopper that Herbert Perry fielded on the run, but instead of trying to nail Henderson at the plate, Perry went for the sure out at first, conceding the run.

"I got Alex by a half step at first base and Rickey had a five-step lead more than Alex did," Perry said. "I couldn't see it and I don't have the hindsight of replay to look at it, but he got a good jump and it was a two-hopper. I don't think there's any way [to get him]."

Chicago continued to stumble in the late innings with Chris Singleton stranding Perry on second to end the sixth and the White Sox getting two on with one out in the seventh but failing to score.

After Thomas flied to center off Jose Mesa, Ordonez lined a scorcher up the middle that glanced off Mesa's glove and deflected just enough for second baseman Mark McLemore to make a diving stab at second. McLemore flipped to Rodriguez at the bag and second-base umpire Mike Winters ruled the throw beat Valentin's slide.

"I thought I was safe, but you can't put the finger on the umps," Valentin said. "He thought I was out and made the call." Added Rodriguez: "That was the ballgame right there."


The Associated Press contributed to this story.


Woeful White Sox

Chicago led the major leagues in scoring this season, but its offense has been ineffective in the first two playoff games against Seattle. A look:

* LEFT STRANDED: White Sox left eight runners on base Wednesday, giving them 18 in the first two games.

* BIG HURTING: Frank Thomas was 0 for 4 and stranded runners in scoring position three times in Game 2. In two games, he has gone 0 for 7 and left nine runners on.

* UPSET MIDSECTION: Chicago's 3-4-5 hitters--Thomas, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Lee--were a combined 0 for 9 after going two for 13 in the opener.

* HOMELY: Chicago has lost nine consecutive postseason home games since beating the Dodgers in Game 1 of the 1959 World Series.

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