- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 20, 2001

NEW YORK After all the Seattle Mariners' stunning success this season the record 116 wins, the emergence of Ichiro-mania, the MVP candidacy of unheralded Bret Boone you wouldn't expect the most important man on their roster to be a 38-year-old journeyman pitcher with a quiet demeanor and an even quieter fastball.

Jamie Moyer's baseball career, though, has been anything but logical. And trailing the New York Yankees 2-0 in the American League Championship Series, the Mariners wouldn't want to send anyone else to the mound today with their season on the line.

"I don't think we could have a more perfect guy out there," reliever Jeff Nelson said. "This guy, even though he might not light up the radar gun, he's a gamer, and he doesn't let things rattle him. When you need a game, he's the guy to go to."

Lou Piniella must have faith in Moyer, because the Seattle manager all but guaranteed his team would win two of three at Yankee Stadium (presumably including Game 3 today), thus bringing the series back to Safeco Field for the final two.

"We're going to be back here to play Game 6," Piniella said moments after Seattle's 3-2 loss in Game 2 Thursday night. "I've got confidence in my baseball club. We've gone to New York and beat this baseball team five out of six times [in the regular season], and we're going to do it again."

This isn't the first time the Mariners have turned to Moyer for a must-win game. When Seattle lost Game 1 of the AL Division Series to Cleveland, Moyer came back and won Game 2. When the Mariners came home for a deciding fifth game, it was Moyer who allowed one run over six innings and carried his team to the ALCS.

"Jamie dominated us, flat-out dominated us," said Indians general manager John Hart, whose team lost to the left-hander twice during the regular season. "The only other pitcher who can dominate us four games a season is Pedro Martinez."

If you question the validity of Hart's statement, think again. Guess who has the majors' best winning percentage since 1996? His name is Moyer, and over the last six seasons he has gone a dazzling 92-41 .692.

After bouncing around four different organizations with minimal success, Moyer signed with the Orioles in 1993 and reported to Class AAA Rochester. Six wins and a 1.67 ERA later, Moyer was pitching at Camden Yards and wound up winning 12 games.

"I had a lot of great opportunities during the course of my career, and they haven't all worked out probably to my liking," he said. "But getting another opportunity in Baltimore was great. I think we all in life need opportunities, and I got a great opportunity in Baltimore. I felt like I was able to take advantage of that."

Moyer posted a respectable 25-22 record in three seasons with the Orioles, but in 1996 then-general manager Pat Gillick decided he'd rather pursue a big-name free agent and went with David Wells. Moyer signed with the Boston Red Sox, went 7-1 and got traded to the contending Mariners in a deadline deal for outfielder Darren Bragg.

"Was I the answer? No, I was not the answer, but I was hoping that I could be a piece of that puzzle," he said. "I felt like coming here I got a great opportunity from Lou and the organization to go out and pitch on a consistent basis. The opportunities were there every fifth day. And I've played on some pretty darn good ballclubs here in Seattle."

He's clearly been the Mariners' most consistent pitcher over that period. Moyer won 17 games in 1997, 15 in '98, 14 in '99, 13 in 2000 and a career-high 20 this year at age 38, becoming the oldest pitcher in history to notch his first 20-win season.

Oh, by the way, he throws an 84-mph fastball and an assortment of offspeed pitches in the 70s.

That, of course, leads to some good-natured ribbing from teammates and opponents. When Mark McGwire played in Oakland, he used to joke that he prepared to face Moyer by taking batting practice with Nerf balls.

"I don't really mind," Moyer said. "My style is my style. I would think that people would find it very difficult to pitch the way I pitch. And I think people would find it very difficult to be a power pitcher, too. As a pitcher, you have to learn what you can use and how to use your abilities and your stuff to get people out."

Said Piniella: "He's gotten better and better as he's gotten older. He's come up with more variations of pitching. He's pitched inside, for instance, this year as well as I've seen him pitch. It reminds me of Frank Tanana after he hurt his arm. He didn't really throw all that hard, but he pitched inside really well."

Flame-thrower or not, Moyer commands plenty of respect from opposing players and managers.

"I admire the hell out of what he has done," New York manager Joe Torre said. "You always think in terms of power, but he has taken a page out of [Greg] Maddux's book, and he went soft or softer. It certainly messes a team up. I think it's great. He worked very hard at what he does. You see all of these big thumpers, big home run hitters, and he has them down on their hands and knees the way he pitches."

If Moyer can beat the Yankees today and keep the Mariners' hopes alive, all of Seattle will be on its hands and knees bowing down in praise of their unsung hero.

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