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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS / AMERICAN LEAGUE

Mariners Take Advantage of a Half-Nelson

Game 5: New York reliever doesn't retire a batter as Seattle blows game open in fifth inning of 6-2 victory.

October 16, 2000|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SEATTLE — It was the dirty half-dozen, six pitches that derailed the New York Yankees' express train to the World Series and put the wayward Seattle Mariners back on track.

Yankee reliever Jeff Nelson faced three batters in the fifth inning Sunday, throwing the ball to the plate a mere six times. It's hard to imagine someone doing more damage in less time.

The Mariners scored as many runs (five) on Nelson's offerings as they had in the previous four American League championship series games combined, and that rally propelled Seattle to a 6-2 Game 5 victory over the Yankees before 47,802 at Safeco Field.

Alex Rodriguez, who was so keyed up he had trouble sleeping Saturday night, knocked in the tying and go-ahead runs with a two-run single, and Edgar Martinez and John Olerud hit back-to-back home runs off Nelson, who had given up two homers in 69 2/3 regular-season innings.

New York still has a 3-2 edge in the best-of-seven series and will send October ace Orlando Hernandez, who is 7-0 with a 1.22 earned-run average in eight playoff starts, to the Yankee Stadium mound for Game 6 against left-hander John Halama on Tuesday night.

But the Mariners reclaimed that precious momentum the Yankees had seized with three consecutive victories, including Roger Clemens' one-hit, 15-strikeout masterpiece in Game 4 Saturday.

"Like I told our team, basically all the pressure is on [the Yankees], not on us," Seattle Manager Lou Piniella said. "They're supposed to win, and they're going home. The onus is on them, believe it or not; it's not on us. We're going to go in there and play nice and relaxed."

That was the theme of the day for Piniella, who looked at the stat sheet, saw the Mariners were hitting .183 with five runs through four games and discarded conventional wisdom like a stale wad of bubble gum: He canceled batting practice.

"Sometimes it's more relaxing to come out and get stretched, get loose and just let the guys play the game," Piniella said. "We've had good results with that."

They did again Sunday, putting together one of their better all-around games of the postseason. They got solid starting pitching from Freddy Garcia, who recovered from Luis Sojo's two-run double in the fourth to record three consecutive outs with runners on second and third.

They got clutch relief pitching from Arthur Rhodes, who struck out Jorge Posada and Glenallen Hill with the bases loaded to end the seventh, and closer Kazuhiro Sasaki, who struck out Luis Polonia and retired Sojo on a fly ball with runners on first and third in the ninth.

They got excellent defense in the sixth inning from Rodriguez, who made a diving stop of Sojo's grounder up the middle and threw Sojo out, and third baseman David Bell, who made a nice stop of Chuck Knoblauch's shot behind the bag and made the long throw to first from one knee.

Most of all, they got some hits. Clutch hits. Huge hits from the players they expect the most of.

Trailing, 2-1, Mark McLemore opened the Mariner fifth with a bunt single off Yankee starter Denny Neagle, and Rickey Henderson walked. Mike Cameron's sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third, leaving Yankee Manager Joe Torre with several critical decisions.

First, does he pitch to Rodriguez or issue the dangerous shortstop an intentional walk to load the bases for the even more dangerous Martinez? Second, if he goes after Rodriguez, does he do so with Neagle, the left-hander, or Nelson, the right-hander?

"It's like deciding how you want to burn your hand," Torre said. "Do you want to use dry ice or do you want to use fire?"

Torre went to Nelson, the sidearm-throwing slider specialist, and ordered him to go after Rodriguez. Next came the sting: Nelson threw a first-pitch slider that was a good six inches inside, but Rodriguez muscled it past lunging third baseman Scott Brosius for a two-run single to left, giving the Mariners a 3-2 lead.

Nelson fell behind Martinez, 2-and-0, and the Seattle designated hitter lined Nelson's next pitch over the center-field wall for a two-run homer and a 5-2 lead.

Olerud, who was robbed of a home run when center fielder Bernie Williams leaped above the wall to catch Olerud's fourth-inning drive, then blasted an 0-and-1 Nelson pitch into the right-center field seats for another homer and a 6-2 lead.

"I wasn't very good today," said Nelson, who warmed up three times Saturday but didn't enter Game 4. "I didn't have the pop on my fastball. There's no room for error. I jammed Alex, and he got it over Brosius' head. That was frustrating. My fastball didn't have any movement on it."

Actually, it did, but in the opposite direction--after it met Mariner bats. Sunday's game was 4 hours 14 minutes, the longest in AL championship series history, but it was decided in the few minutes Nelson was on the mound, when the normally reliable reliever allowed two balls to be crushed.

"Nelson has been killing us, so we felt it was time we got to him," Cameron said. "Once A-Rod got that hit, there was definitely a feeling of relief, and we thought we were going to break through. Now we need to go back to New York and try to upset them."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Seattle vs. New York

Yankees lead series, 3-2

GAME 5

SEATTLE: 6

NEW YORK: 2

TUESDAY

Seattle at New York, 5 p.m.

WEDNESDAY

Seattle at New York, 5 p.m.*

TV--Channel 4

*--if necessary

ALSO

NOTES, D13

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