- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 10, 2000

NEW YORK Ken Griffey Jr. and Randy Johnson left Seattle. Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter have become full-blown megastars. Tino Martinez, Jeff Nelson and Luis Sojo shed their Mariners' uniforms for Yankees pinstripes.

Much has changed since the Mariners beat the Yankees in a classic, five-game duel in 1995.

Perhaps most importantly is that the Yankees have the mystique of winning three World Series titles in four years, and the Mariners have undergone an overhaul from a power-hitting team to a club that relies on pitching and situational baseball.

"It's a different Yankees club and certainly a different Seattle club," said Mariners manager Lou Piniella, one of the few holdovers on either team. "I don't think you can go back to 1995 and draw any comparisons."

The teams begin a new series tonight at Yankees Stadium, with Denny Neagle (15-9) starting for New York against Freddy Garcia (9-5) in Game 1 of the AL Championship Series.

Many of the changes the teams have undergone stem from that memorable week in October 1995. The series featured two extra-inning games, including Jim Leyritz's game-winning homer in the 15th inning that gave the Yankees a 2-0 series lead.

Then Griffey, Johnson and Edgar Martinez took over, with the Big Unit winning two of the next three games one in relief and Griffey scoring the winning run on Martinez's double in the 11th inning of the deciding fifth game.

"That memory is apparent for all Yankees fans, as well as Mariners fans," New York manager Joe Torre said.

Buck Showalter lost his job following that series, and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, in one of his best moves, hired Torre. Jeter became the starting shortstop in 1996, Martinez took over Don Mattingly's spot at first base, and Nelson helped give New York the best postseason bullpen in history.

"Losing that series was such a huge disappointment for us," said Paul O'Neill, one of five Yankees still on the roster. "When you lose like that, it's something you never forget. But that experience has made this team better. We learned you don't take any year for granted because you know it can go so quickly."

The Mariners' changes took longer to develop. Their dramatic playoff run helped spur state legislators to approve funding for a new stadium, which opened last season. But Seattle was unable to keep Johnson and Griffey, losing their ace pitcher and star hitter.

"In '98 we lost Randy, in '99 we lost Griff and in 2000 we're in the postseason," Rodriguez said. "It's kind of ironic."

Part of the reason is a new philosophy that coincided with the opening of spacious Safeco Field and the closing of the homer-happy Kingdome.

"We've adapted to Safeco," Rodriguez said. "We don't sit around and wait for the three-run homer anymore. We bunt, move people over, steal bases and pitch a lot better. Pitching and defense are what win baseball games."

Seattle will rely on a deep bullpen led by Japanese import Kazuhiro Sasaki and an inexperienced rotation fronted by Garcia and Halama two of the prospects acquired from Houston for Johnson.

"We need for them to settle down and throw strikes," Piniella said. "But they both have the equipment. Both Freddy and John will pitch good ballgames if they are pitching on their games."

There are other intriguing story lines to this series: the Yankees trying to become the first team in 10 years to make three straight World Series; Rickey Henderson playing in the postseason in New York after his reported in-game, card-playing during last year's NLCS with the Mets; and buddies Jeter and Rodriguez squaring off in the postseason for the first time.

"It's very exciting playing against my best friend," Rodriguez said. "But we have lots of time to spend together in the offseason. This week, it's war."

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