October 5, 1997 in Sports

Fassero Gives M’S New Life Seattle Lefty Pitches Out Of Jams To Avoid Playoff Elimination

Larry Larue Tacoma News Tribune
 

One man with heart made a game of it Saturday.

Today, Randy Johnson and the Seattle Mariners will try to take the next step - and make a series out of it.

In a Seattle clubhouse filled with relieved realists, the best analysis of the Mariners 4-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles in Game 3 of the American League Division Series was the simplest.

“If we hadn’t won this, we’d be on a plane heading home,” Rich Amaral said. “That’s what Jeff Fassero did for us tonight. He kept us here one more day. He gave us a chance.”

A revised lineup got the Mariners a few runs, but again and again players on both teams kept coming back to one man as the decisive factor - and always, it was Fassero.

Dropped into the leadoff role, journeyman Amaral had a pair of hits and scored the game’s only runs until both teams scored twice in the ninth inning. Roberto Kelly drove Amaral home once; Ken Griffey Jr. got him in a second time.

And for eight tough, gritty innings, that was it.

For a team that had scored three runs in each of the first two postseason games - and lost by six each time - two runs could not be deemed a big lead.

“This was the kind of game I thought we’d play all series,” Jay Buhner said. “Close, low-scoring, well-pitched. We got blown out the first two, but tonight we played hard. So did Baltimore. The difference was Jeff Fassero.”

A 34-year-old left-hander who’d never been closer to the postseason than his television, Fassero survived a rocky first-inning by stopping a ground ball with his foot, pitched out of a second-and-third base, none-out crisis in the third inning and then did what no Mariner has done all season.

“He shut down the best team in baseball,” Amaral said.

“I’ve thought about pitching in the playoffs my whole career,” Fassero said afterward. “I thought I might as well try to make the most of it.”

Fassero struggled so much early - he needed 30 pitches in the first inning - that manager Lou Piniella wasn’t sure he’d be around late. But after Fassero squeezed out of that perilous third inning by getting Geronimo Berroa, Rafael Palmeiro and Cal Ripken Jr. with men in scoring position, something happened.

“He got better and better and better,” Piniella said. “From about the fourth inning on, you can’t find a better-pitched game.”

“It’s the same old thing,” Fassero said. “If teams get me, it’s usually early. I get better later. I have no idea why.”

After three innings, the Mariners had a 1-0 lead. After five, it was 2-0.

And from the fourth through the eighth innings, Fassero didn’t allow Baltimore a hit - or a baserunner.

In the Seattle ninth, the Mariners got solo home runs from Buhner and Paul Sorrento, back-to-back, and went to the bottom half ahead, 4-0.

Fassero had thrown 132 pitches. He took the mound in the ninth on heart, but heart couldn’t find the strike zone, and Piniella went to his bullpen after Fassero walked Berroa. Four batters later, it was a game - Heathcliff Slocumb had allowed a two-out double and was matched against the potential tying run in pinch-hitter Harold Baines.

“I threw him a slider, then another slider,” Slocumb said, “and he popped the second one up.”

“It was one game,” catcher Dan Wilson said. “Now if we win Game 4 - then it’s a series.”

To a man, the Mariners felt a slight shift in the air at Camden Yards. They are one loss from elimination, but they have their ace pitching today.

“Randy has been our stud all year,” Buhner said. “What I expect today is another great game from a great pitcher.”

“A game like tonight you feed off of,” Slocumb said, “and then you hand the ball to the big man for Game 4? I like it.”

Piniella was in good spirits after the game.

“We got one today. We got Randy going next. If we can get this series to Game 5 the pressure will be entirely on Baltimore,” he said. “That’s a big ‘if’, but it’s like I told our players before the game. We got four days worth of meal money when this trip began. Let’s spend it all in Baltimore.”

Fassero gave them the opportunity to spend another day’s worth.

“Was it the biggest game of my career?” he asked, repeating the question. “Yes, because we won it. Was it the team’s biggest game of the season? For a minute or two, yeah - now (today’s) game is the biggest.”

Surrounded by the media, Alex Rodriguez tried to tone down his pleasure at winning but couldn’t.

“We gave two games away, we’ve taken one back,” he said. “We disappointed two big crowds at home, now we sent one of their big crowds home disappointed.

“One way you could look at it is this: They’ve beaten Randy a few times this year, they beat him in Game 1, so they’re supposed to beat him. But everybody knows beating him isn’t easy. So they’ve got expectations to deal with now - and they’ve got Randy to deal with now.

“I think the pressure is on them.”

“We don’t want to go home,” Buhner said. “It’s been a long, hard grind all year so why should it get easier for this team? I like our chances better now than I did down 0-2, but it’s not like it’s going to get easier for us.

“We know Mike Mussina is filthy, he can pitch. We know Randy can pitch. We’ll show up, play hard and see what happens, and I’m sure they’re feeling the same way.”

Mariners 4, Orioles 2

Seattle AB R H BI BB SO Avg. Amaral 1b 3 2 2 0 0 0 .500 Sheets 3b 1 0 0 0 0 1 .333 RKelly lf 4 0 2 1 0 0 .333 Griffey Jr cf 4 0 1 1 0 1 .182 EMartinez dh 4 0 1 0 0 1 .167 ARodriguez ss 4 0 2 0 0 1 .417 Buhner rf 4 1 1 1 0 2 .273 Blowers 3b 2 0 1 0 0 0 .200 a-Sorrento 1b 2 1 1 1 0 1 .375 DaWilson c 4 0 0 0 0 3 .000 Cora 2b 4 0 0 0 0 0 .231 Totals 36 4 11 4 0 10

Baltimore AB R H BI BB SO Avg.

ByAnderson cf 4 0 2 0 0 0 .462 RAlomar 2b 3 0 1 0 0 0 .222 Berroa dh 2 1 0 0 2 1 .333 RPalmeiro 1b 4 1 1 0 0 0 .273 CRipken 3b 3 0 0 0 1 2 .417 Surhoff lf 4 0 0 0 0 0 .273 Hammonds rf 4 0 1 2 0 0 .143 Hoiles c 3 0 0 0 0 0 .200 b-Baines ph 1 0 0 0 0 0 .400 Bordick ss 2 0 0 0 1 0 .500 Totals 30 2 5 2 4 3 Seattle 001 010 002 - 4 Baltimore 000 000 002 - 2 a-struck out for Blowers in the 6th. b-popped out for Hoiles in the 9th.

LOB-Seattle 5, Baltimore 6. 2B-RKelly (3), ARodriguez (1), RAlomar (2), Hammonds (1). HR-Sorrento (1) off TeMathews; Buhner (2) off TeMathews. RBIs-RKelly (1), Griffey Jr (2), Buhner (2), Sorrento (1), Hammonds 2 (2). CS-Bordick (1). S-RAlomar.

Runners left in scoring position-Seattle 3 (EMartinez, ARodriguez, Sorrento); Baltimore 5 (CRipken 2, Surhoff 2, Baines).

Runners moved up-Surhoff.

Seattle IP H R ER BB SO NP ERA

Fassero W,1-0 8 3 1 1 4 3 136 1.13 Slocumb 1 2 1 1 0 0 19 9.00

Baltimore IP H R ER BB SO NP ERA

Key L,0-1 4-2/3 8 2 2 0 4 76 3.86 Mills 1 1 0 0 0 1 8 0.00 Rhodes 2-1/3 0 0 0 0 4 29 0.00 TeMathews 1 2 2 2 0 1 21 18.00 Fassero pitched to 1 batter in the 9th.

Inherited runners-scored-Slocumb 1-1, Mills 1-0, Rhodes 1-0.

WP-Key.

T-3:26. A-49,137 (48,262).


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