Monday, October 15, 2001

Mariners scoff at pressure




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        CLEVELAND — Mark McLemore took issue with the word “tension.” He rejected the notion of nerves. He looked on an excruciating Sunday afternoon and found it “exciting.” The Seattle shortstop would have us think the Mariners are imprervious to pressure.

        “We learned a long time ago how to deal with that,” McLemore said. “That's why we're the professionals and everybody else is in the stands looking at us.”

        Nine outs from playoff oblivion, still scoreless against Bartolo Colon after 14 postseason innings, the Mariners rallied for a 6-2 must victory over the Cleveland Indians Sunday afternoon at Jacobs Field.

        They did not crack. They did not choke. They beat Colon without battering him — slapping and slashing, working walks, finding holes — and forcing a decisive Game Five in the American League Division Series.

        At its core, the Mariners' game is not about power, but precision. They have rarely done more with less than during Sunday's seventh inning.

        Through six innings, a second-inning solo homer by Cleveland's Juan Gonzalez served as a complete scoring summary. Colon, who had pitched eight shutout innings to win Game One in Seattle, was working on a three-hitter and the Mariners had yet to advance a runner as far as third base.

        Despair? Au contraire.

        “We made a lot of outs that were hard outs,” Seattle catcher Dan Wilson said. “I think we thought it was a matter of time before we got our chance.”

See the pitch

        Mariners manager Lou Piniella said the cloudy conditions enabled his players to see Colon's pitches better than they had in Seattle, and their ability to read the ball's break may have enabled them to spoil some of the same pitches that produced strikeouts in Game 1. John Olerud fouled off two full-count pitches before drawing a leadoff walk in the seventh inning. From that modest beginning, a three-run rally was born.

        Stan Javier moved Olerud to second base with a lunging, half-swing hit-and-run single to left field — an exercise in bat control rather than brute strength. David Bell tied the game with a foul sacrifice fly. Ichiro Suzuki put Seattle ahead with a single through a hole on the right side of the infield. Then McLemore found a similar hole to give Seattle a 3-1 lead.

        Without so much as a line drive, the Mariners had made the Indians unravel.

        “We had six real good innings,” Cleveland manager Charlie Manuel said. “And, all of a sudden, things started happening to us and we ended up getting beat.”

Secret of success

        The Mariners did not win 116 games during the regular season by bludgeoning people to death, but with a succession of surgical incisions. Other lineups inspire awe; Seattle's is about aggravation. The Mariners play a style of baseball that can get on an opponent's nerves. Their own nerves have not been noticeable.

        “I don't know about tension,” Piniella said. “I think it's fun. I really do. I mean, that's what you play for all year long. That's what you work for in spring training, to get to these kind of situations. ”

        Fingernail-biting is for the fans.

        E-mail tsullivan@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/sullivan.

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