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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS / AMERICAN LEAGUE | NEW YORK VS.
SEATTLE / NOTES

Rivera Almost Automatic as a Postseason Closer

October 15, 2000|MIKE DiGIOVANNA

SEATTLE — Mariner fans were equipped Saturday with white rags, which, when waved in unison, made Safeco Field look like it was in full surrender mode. They might as well hand the things to Mariner players when Yankee closer Mariano Rivera comes into the game.

Rivera has faced nine batters in the American League championship series and retired eight of them. He saved victories in Games 2 and 3 and ran his postseason scoreless streak to 33 1/3 innings, breaking Whitey Ford's major league record of 33 innings, set from 1960-62.

Though the right-hander has only two strikeouts in 7 2/3 playoff innings this month, he has been dominant, breaking numerous bats with his nasty cut fastball and rarely allowing opponents to make good contact.

"It's almost like we're in a panic in the dugout, knowing we have to get to these guys before the eighth inning or he's coming in," Seattle outfielder Al Martin said. "It's not right."

Rivera, who had 36 saves and a 2.85 earned-run average this season, seemed vulnerable at times, blowing five save opportunities and giving up four home runs--he has given up only 13 homers in the last five seasons--but he has returned to his untouchable old self in the playoffs.

What makes Rivera so effective is he may be tougher on left-handers than right-handers, because his cutter breaks onto the hands of lefties and often shatters their bats.

"It's not like he's normal," said Martin, who bats left-handed. "Nothing comes out of his hand the same. He has that fastball and that cutter, and they each come at you at about 1,000 mph. That cutter, it's like he has a joystick in his hand and decides to move it in on your hands just two feet before it gets to you."

Rivera, whose 0.33 postseason ERA is the lowest of any pitcher with at least 30 playoff innings, hasn't given up a postseason run since Cleveland catcher Sandy Alomar homered off him in Game 4 of the 1997 division series.

"Every year people say he's got to come up with another pitch, but when you're throwing a 95-mph fastball that's cutting five or six inches or so, it's amazing," Yankee pitcher Andy Pettitte said. "You know, you get spoiled with him."

Seattle Manager Lou Piniella said there is only one way to neutralize Rivera.

"I think the secret is to not give the Yankees a lead and get him out there," Piniella said. "That's really the only way to combat the situation successfully."

*

The Yankees' Game 3 victory Friday night solidified Manager Joe Torre's choice for left-hander Denny Neagle to start Game 5 today against Seattle right-hander Freddy Garcia.

Neagle, who was not part of the division series rotation, gave up only two runs on three hits in 5 2/3 innings of a 2-0 Game 1 loss to Seattle, but had New York been trailing in the series, Torre said he would have considered bringing Orlando Hernandez back on three days' rest for Game 5.

"I'm not sure what we would have done if we were down, 3-1, in the series," Torre said. "I'm not saying it would not have been Neagle, but I can't tell you for sure.

"But with us winning [Game 3] my feeling was, if there is a Game 6 and 7, I'd rather have El Duque and Pettitte at full strength in those two games."

*

Mariner starter Paul Abbott left Saturday's game after five innings because of tightness in his right shoulder. . . . Of the previous eight teams to hold 3-1 leads in the ALCS, six advanced to the World Series. The only teams that didn't were the 1985 Royals, who lost to the Blue Jays, and the 1986 Angels, who lost to the Red Sox. The Yankees are 8-0 when leading 3-1 in a seven-game series. . . . Roger Clemens' shutout Saturday was the first in the ALCS since Kansas City's Danny Jackson blanked Toronto, 2-0, in Game 5 of the 1985 ALCS. . . . Through four games of the series, the Mariners are batting .183 (23 for 126) and have five runs. Only the 1983 White Sox (three) and the 1990 Red Sox (four) have scored fewer runs in the first four ALCS games. . . . With his eighth-inning homer, Yankee left fielder David Justice increased his ALCS RBI total to 20, one shy of all-time championship series leader Steve Garvey's 21. His 47 career playoff RBIs are one shy of Reggie Jackson's 48.

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