If they believe what they’ve read the last few days, the Seattle Mariners may not show up today.
If what they’ve seen and heard on the television is true, they needn’t bother.
On the eve of this afternoon’s third game of the American League Division Series, the Baltimore Orioles took a day off as the city started making plans to the host the American League Championship Series.
One more win, the Orioles play for the pennant. One more loss, the Mariners are done until February - and virtually no one in the media is giving Seattle a chance of extending their post-season with three consecutive victories in Camden Yards.
“We’ll show up,” manager Lou Piniella said.
No one, including the Mariners, thinks that will be enough.
After back-to-back pummelings in the Kingdome by 9-3 scores, the Mariners have already seen what happens against Baltimore when a team merely shows up. To get back into this series, Seattle must do a number of things well, but one thing quickly.
They’ve got to win.
“We haven’t put the pressure in their dugout yet,” Paul Sorrento said. “We haven’t chased a starting pitcher, we haven’t held a lead late, we haven’t made them play catchup. I don’t think we’ve even made them make a tough decision yet.”
All that must change if the Mariners are to win even one game in this best-of-5 series.
By the numbers, the Orioles have dominated this series completely - more hits, more home runs, more runs. If that were all there were to it, the Mariners might be able to live with losing.
What has killed Seattle has been the little things.
“We’ve drawn three walks in two games, struck out 22 times,” one coach said. “They’ve walked 10 times - and eight of the men we’ve walked have scored.”
Do the math: Seattle has six runs in two games. Baltimore has eight runs over the same span from players who didn’t even hit to reach base.
“If all we’d done better was cut down on the walks, we cut down on almost half the runs they scored and we’re probably in both games,” the coach said. “They’re a good enough team you don’t need to spot them eight runs that way.”
What Piniella and his team have acknowledged down 0-2 is that the only chance they have to get back into this series is to do precisely what they planned to do before the first pitch was thrown in the Kingdome:
Get seven or more strong innings from a starting pitcher.
Get a lead and build on it.
Get into Baltimore’s middle-relief corps.
In two games, the Mariners have done none of those things.
As bad as the Seattle bullpen has been, the one stat most overlooked is that although the Mariners have used six relievers, only one of them - Paul Spoljaric in Game 2 - inherited a lead. And even that was shaky, a 2-1 edge with two runners on base.
It was a lead that lasted four pitches.
The problem now is that the Mariners have no margin of error. If they don’t do most everything perfectly each inning of each game they play, they’re going to lose.
Today, Jeff Fassero gives them their best chance in this series. He pitched superbly against the Orioles earlier this year, allowing one run in eight innings in Camden Yards. Jimmy Key, by contrast, was 1-1 vs. Seattle with a 6.00 earned-run average this year, and is an even 9-9 against the Mariners in his career.
But even if Seattle wins today, the task ahead is nearly overwhelming. Piniella has said he would almost certainly bring Randy Johnson back on three days rest - asking what good it would do to have a rested Johnson ready for Monday should the series end before that.
Johnson has not fared well against Baltimore.
But give the Mariners that game, too, for argument’s sake. That still leaves the Orioles with home field advantage, and leaves the Mariners without Jamie Moyer.
“If it gets to Game 5, you’re probably looking at Ken Cloude and the whole staff backing him up from the first inning on,” Piniella said.
1. ON TV The Mariners and Orioles play Game 3 of their playoff series in Baltimore today. The game will be broadcast at 1 p.m. on Fox.
2. YOU MAKE THE CALL We want your thoughts on the M’s the good, the bad and the ugly after today’s playoff game. Call 458-8800, ext. 9897 in Washington or (208) 765-8811, ext. 9897 in Idaho to comment in 30 seconds or less and look for them Sunday in The Spokesman-Review.