- The Washington Times - Friday, October 13, 2000

Seattle Mariners manager Lou Piniella said he is more than happy to leave New York with a 1-1 tie in the best-of-7 American League Championship Series against the Yankees.

"I feel good about our situation," he said. "We came in here really wanting to split. We got in a position to win two ballgames. It didn't happen. But now we go back to our home ballpark."

I know what he means. But first of all, it's not true. The Mariners didn't really want to split. That means they really wanted to lose one game. How ridiculous is that?

Secondly, under normal condition, a split in the opposing team's ballpark would be an acceptable outcome. After all, it takes away the home field advantage New York had going into the series.

But against the Yankees, it's not even acceptable. If you are even against the Yankees, you are behind. This is a team that, for the most part, has remained intact for four years, reaching the playoffs each of those seasons and winning the World Series three times.

They play for a manager they love in Joe Torre and are probably as close and professional a team as you will find in the currently dysfunctional state of baseball.

Compare them with the Mariners, a team without the player considered their "franchise" for many years, Ken Griffey Jr., and are actually considered a better team without him. A team whose other superstar, Alex Rodriguez, is refusing to sign a long-term contract and appears ready to break free agency contract records by going to the highest bidder, no matter how well his Mariners do. A team with nearly half of its roster consisting of new faces. A team whose manager has declared he may not be back next year.

Even? I think not.

The Mariners had a chance to gain a slight edge by going up 2-0 in the series. They had won Game 1 and were winning Game 2, just barely, with a 1-0 lead, going into the bottom of the eighth inning. The Yankees were looking weak, having not scored a run after being beaten 2-0 in the opener, and desperate.

Then the bullpen gates opened up, and former Oriole Arthur Rhodes walked through them. Piniella said he felt good leaving Yankee Stadium with a split. He didn't know the meaning of the words "feel good" until the Yankees saw Rhodes walking toward that mound. They had seen it enough before to know that something good was about to happen for them.

I know Rhodes has found a place in baseball as an effective left-handed reliever. I know he throws a 95 mph fastball and, in most circumstances, is difficult to hit.

But the mound at Yankee Stadium is scorched earth for Rhodes literally. I think they had to replace the turf around the mound several times after he pitched there because he was lit up so much. This year Rhodes had a 7.71 ERA against New York, and I can remember several times when, as a starter for Baltimore, Rhodes was gone before the third inning at Yankee Stadium, leaving a 4-0 deficit behind him.

I can't blame Piniella. Rhodes is the Mariners' best left-handed reliever and logically, with left-handed hitting David Justice coming up, it made perfect sense to bring him in to keep their 1-0 lead intact until closer Kazuhiro Sasaki would come in for the ninth.

But if you have seen Rhodes pitch over his career, you knew, in your heart of hearts, that the Mariners were about to lose the game.

Justice doubled to left-center. Bernie Williams singled to center, driving in Justice. Tino Martinez hit a line drive to left field that Al Martin should have caught but didn't. Still, it was a hard-hit ball and not the strikeout the Mariners should have expected from Rhodes. Jorge Posada followed with a ground ball that bounced off the glove of Mark McLemore and rolled into left field, allowing Williams to score for a 2-1 New York lead. Paul O'Neill's sacrifice made it 3-1. When Rhodes finally left, he had given up three runs. Jose Mesa came in to make it an ex-Oriole exacta, giving up four more runs for a 7-1 loss.

The Mariners will send 17-game winner Aaron Sele to the mound tonight at Safeco Field the pitcher who wasn't fit to be an Oriole, turned away because of questions about the health of his pitching arm to face Andy Pettitte.

If Seattle wins, it will take a 2-1 lead. Then it will be even with the Yankees.

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