Lou Piniella refers to the Seattle Mariners style of baseball without Ken Griffey Jr. and Jay Buhner as “little ball.”
He was both literally and figuratively correct Sunday as Chad Kreuter’s two-strike squeeze bunt in the ninth inning traveled all of about 4 feet in front of the plate.
The short pop up bunt was good enough though to get Rich Amaral home from third and send the Mariners home 2-1 victors in front of 24,770 in the Kingdome.
“When he first laid it down, I said, ‘Oh my God! Here we go again, double play,’ ” said Piniella, who held his breath along with the crowd as the ball was popped into the air. “Amaral with his speed and athleticism made it happen. Richie made a marvelous play of getting around the catcher. Just a tremendous slide.”
Amaral started, continued and finished the ninth inning by himself. He doubled down the left-field line with one out. Then, even though Kreuter, a left-handed batter, was at the plate, Amaral stole third.
“You usually wouldn’t steal third with a left-handed hitter up,” Piniella said. “(Minnesota pitcher Kevin) Tapani wasn’t paying that much attention to him and Richie stole that base rather easily.”
The steal allowed Piniella to make another surprise move, opting for the squeeze play with two strikes.
Kreuter popped the ball up and didn’t even bother running to first. He stayed at the plate to direct Amaral.
“Once the ball got out there, I was just hoping it got out there enough. I almost got caught in the play telling Richie to get wide,” Kreuter said. “I think (Twins catcher Matt) Merullo was more surprised than anything.”
Merullo appeared to have been stunned, or hoping the ball would go foul, as he hesitated just enough to allow Amaral to dive around his tag.
“I love being aggressive. That’s a part of my game I enjoy,” Amaral said. “By the time he (Merullo) got it I was able to get around and get the corner of the plate.”
Tapani thought Minnesota had turned a double play and gotten out of the inning. From his vantage point, he thought Merullo got Amaral and then tagged Kreuter who was still standing at the plate.
Kreuter didn’t run to first to make his fielder’s choice sacrifice official until after the Mariners mobbed him and Amaral at the plate, and Joey Cora did cartwheels in front of the dugout.
The aggressive nature on the basepaths - Amaral’s steal was the 11th in 12 attempts for the M’s - also showed in Seattle’s pitchers.
Salomon Torres went the first six innings, striking out a career-high eight after giving up an RBI-double to Marty Cordova in the first.
Jeff Nelson continued his mastery of the strike zone in his two innings, sending five more batters back to the bat rack after striking out. Bill Risley came on in the ninth and ended the inning by striking out Chuck Knoblauch, who was booed loudly the entire series for allegedly roughing up a teenage fan Thursday.
Seattle pitchers recorded 15 strikeouts in all.
“Some of our guys were horrendous at the plate. Very unprofessional with the bat,” Twins manager Tom Kelly said. “Some of them should be thinking of giving back some of the money they supposedly earn out there.”
Torres got into trouble on three occasions, but had good enough stuff to get out of the jams. In the third, fourth and sixth, Minnesota got two runners on base and couldn’t score.
“I think Salomon threw very, very well,” Piniella said. “That’s two good starts in a row. That’s what we need from him.”
Torres left in part due to cramps apparently caused by fluid depletion.
“We’ll have to make sure he’s drinking some fluids next time during the game,” Piniella said.
Tapani had held the Mariners in check, allowing only three hits - two doubles by Amaral and a single from Kreuter - to the bottom six hitters in the Seattle lineup.
With two out in the eighth, Joey Cora lined a double off the scoreboard in right. Kelly chose to walk Edgar Martinez and pitch to Tino Martinez. The strategy worked as Tino, whose average fell below .300 for the first time this season, grounded back to Tapani.
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