Albert Belle was sore. That’s not necessarily news, for Belle could get sore at chirping hummingbirds, rainbows and the dew of a cloudless fall morning. But Saturday, his soreness was a matter of body, not soul.
The most dangerous hitter in the most powerful lineup in baseball sprained his right ankle attempting to dodge a Norm Charlton fastball Friday night, and was scratched from Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.
Scratched, too, was starting catcher Sandy Alomar, shelved with a stiff neck. Already trailing two games to one in the best-of-7 playoff, the Cleveland Indians appeared ready to take another step toward oblivion against Andy Benes and the Mariners.
So, of course, the staggering, shellshocked Tribe pushed three runs across the plate in the first inning, added scoring rallies in the second, third and sixth, and went on to hand Seattle a 7-0 thumping, the M’s ugliest defeat since their regular-season finale at Texas.
“We were out of it,” Lou Piniella said of Game 4, “before it started.”
Piniella’s team, it should be clear by now, plays its best when gripped by a sense of urgency. Having pilfered a game from the Indians Friday, the Mariners arrived here at wet and chilly Jacobs Field thoroughly satisfied with themselves. Missing was the inclination to turn every half of every inning into a psychic tug of war. On the contrary, they had a one-game cushion, and they were determined to use it.
I’m not sure whether this qualifies as good or bad news, but life is about to get urgent again for the Mariners. Real urgent. Chris Bosio, slapped silly in his most recent postseason start (eight days ago against the Yankees) will take the mound today for the critically important tie-breaker.
Insisted Piniella: “I think he’ll pitch a good ballgame.”
Bosio hasn’t pitched an effective game in a month.
After jumping off to a 5-0 start, he dropped eight of his last 13 regular-season decisions. On a Seattle starting staff whose aggregate ERA ranked seventh in the league with Randy Johnson, nobody gave up more hits and more earned runs than Chris Bosio.
Moreover, opponents hit a revealing .313 against the veteran right-hander. As point of reference, opponents hit “only” .269 against the visibly overwhelmed Dave Fleming.
But instead of being consigned to the bullpen for long-relief duty, Bosio found himself starting two of the five games against the Yankees. His combined postseason pitching line: 7-2/3 innings, 10 hits, nine earned runs, four walks, two strikeouts.
“In the first playoff game against the Yankees,” Piniella said, “he pitched representative, and in the second he didn’t have much. I think that was due to the fact we had to bring him back on three days rest twice. Chris needs a little more time than that, but we were caught in a bind with our pitching at the time.
“He’s had seven full days of rest, and I think he’ll have much better stuff.”
Piniella also likes the idea of hitters striking Bosio’s sinkerball offerings on natural grass, a surface better suited than turf for somebody whose battle plan is to induce grounders. (For the record, Bosio was 2-4, with a 4.44 ERA, on grass, and 8-4, 5.13 on turf.)
All these may be swell reasons to hand Bosio the ball in the critical “swing” game. But I’ve got one better reason not to.
In Game 1, the 22-year-old rookie exhibited a more polished touch on the mound than Bosio has shown all year. Wolcott had the naturally aggressive Indians flailing away at his pitches for seven innings.
Bob Wolcott has yet to show he doesn’t belong on the postseason stage. Chris Bosio has yet to show he does.
Bosio conceded Saturday: “I haven’t had the greatest of years.”
But the Seattle Mariners have. It’d be a shame for them to leave Cleveland trailing by a game because of a managerial decision that was wrong from the start.