October 2, 1997 in Sports

No Matter How It’s Spun, Loss Was Devastating

John Blanchette The Spokesman-R
 

The sloganeers are not exactly working overtime here. But then, this series could be a short shift for all concerned.

Refuse to Lose has given way to a pedestrian substitute, Raise the Roof - though if you get steered into one of the $25 parking lots ringing the Kingdome you’ll know the catchphrase of the playoffs is really Raise the Price.

One more Seattle loss and it’ll be Raise the Dead.

Other than mottos, the threads connecting the Mariners’ second postseason journey with the maiden voyage two years ago are mostly irrelevant now that the Baltimore Orioles have beaten Randy Johnson in Game 1 of their American League division series.

Not on points. Not on cuts.

Knockout.

“It’s never easy to lose a game,” said Jay Buhner, doing his best to swallow Wednesday’s 9-3 loss, “especially when they kick your butt and beat your ace.”

Or kick your ace and beat your butt. Your call.

Otherwise, the only way the spin on the postgame pitch could have been more predictable was if Mike Timlin had thrown it.

Just one game. This team’s been resilient all year. We’ve been in this situation before. Yadda yadda yadda.

It’s even mostly true, except this stuff about being in this position before.

Even in their limited postseason history, the Mariners have never sent out their sure thing rested and ready and had him shipped back in a pine box.

“Doesn’t matter,” insisted Ken Griffey Jr., who had perhaps the four most feeble at-bats of his career Wednesday night, “whether it was Randy or anybody else. We lost.”

Uh, scoring change. Make Junior 0 for 5. It makes a huge difference.

It’s not that the Mariners can’t win behind Jamie Moyer or Jeff Fassero, but the myth is that they just don’t lose behind Johnson - and they’ve fed that myth for three years, no matter how furiously they’re now trying to backpedal out of it.

“These guys depend on me, but I depend on all of them,” said Johnson. “There’s no one person that has more of a load than anyone else in this locker room. I need to dictate what’s going to happen in the game, so from that respect maybe they count on me not to put them in a hole right away. Essentially, I didn’t but deeper in the game, I did.”

He didn’t get very deep. Lou Piniella initialed the Big Unit’s time card after just five innings and 100 all-over-the-place pitches, the M’s trailing 5-1 at the time. Discretion truly is the better part of getting your head beat in, though much of the damage was self-inflicted.

Lou was looking ahead. Early surrender in Game 1 now makes it a lock for him to pre-empt rookie Ken Cloude with Johnson in Game 4.

You have to admire the optimism.

Only kidding. Moyer, Seattle’s Game 2 starter, is 5-1 lifetime against Baltimore and there’s every reason to believe his Whitman’s sampler of chocolate-covered off-speed cherries can do to the Orioles’ collective tummy today what the Big Unit’s cheese plate couldn’t do Wednesday night.

But it is a little like sending Jimmy Olsen to rescue Superman, no?

Actually, Superman this night was Mike Mussina.

“I was happy that the Big Unit was getting all the press,” said Orioles manager Davey Johnson. “Everyone was talking about the Big Unit like Mike Mussina was chopped liver. I thought, ‘Man, I wouldn’t bet against Mike.’ He’s been the best pitcher in baseball over the same period.”

Against Seattle, anyway. This time he managed to out-Unit the Unit by masterfully striking out Alex Rodriguez, Buhner and Paul Sorrento in the second. He threw 66 of his 93 pitches for strikes - a heck of a tuneup for Game 4, you’d have to say.

That may be Seattle’s best reason for optimism: The M’s won’t see Mussina for four more days.

But they still have to deal with the doubts. Cleveland shut the M’s down with pitching in 1995, and Baltimore has every bit as much now - starters and relievers - as the Tribe did then.

And the O’s have more. Flexibility.

As expected, Davey Johnson retooled his lineup against the other Johnson. Sitting lefties Rafael Palmeiro, B.J. Surhoff and Roberto Alomar, Davey took 70 homers, 258 RBIs and a .289 average out of the lineup - replacing them with 15 dingers, 61 RBIs and a .268 average.

And won laughing. OK, the only big hit by the surrogates was Eric Davis’ rather fluky chop single that scored two runs - but the point is, the O’s did more than just survive.

“A lot of times you take a calculated gamble that you think is best for your team and that may be at the expense of the manager,” Johnson said. “I felt like I had to put my neck on the chopping block if I was going to gain anything. But when you have a great group of ballplayers, it’s not really a risk.”

The M’s have a great group, too.

But if they can’t be expected to manufacture magic the way they did in 1995, they at least have to manufacture runs - and the three solo homers they managed Wednesday was the continuation of a summer-long theme: not enough hits in bunches.

Speaking of themes, some folks had better hope they get graded on those instead of their homework. The Orioles supposedly came staggering into the playoffs - 13-16 in September, some of their stars wounded. The Mariners, meanwhile, cruised in 15-10 - their best month other than a serendipitous June.

Fool’s gold. Just one Seattle victory last month came against a team with a record over .500; 17 of Baltimore’s games were against playoff teams.

“You still have to win three out of five,” said Piniella. “Had we won Game 1, we still would have had to win two more. Now it makes it a little tougher for us. But we are very capable of winning three of the next four ballgames.”

There must be a slogan in there someplace.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review


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