The final game before the All-Star break provided the Seattle Mariners with a gentle reminder - thinking too much about baseball will make you lose your mind.
Some thought is essential. But try figuring out how a team that loses three in a row to Detroit, a team under .500 when that series began, can then match up with the best team in baseball and split four games.
“Detroit ruined this trip,” first baseman Tino Martinez said Sunday. “Taking two games here, winning today, that’s what we hoped to do.”
The hopes of the Seattle Mariners can take a breather for three days during the All-Star break, and the reality of a 9-3 victory Sunday over the Cleveland Indians might make that break a little more enjoyable.
Riding the three hottest bats in their lineup - and getting a solid start from the least likely candidate in their rotation - the Mariners pushed their record back to within a game of .500 (34-35).
“The break comes at the right time for us,” manager Lou Piniella said. “We win the last game of a tough trip, get a few days off and then regroup and try to put together a hot streak. We’re due for one, but whether we get it or not remains to be seen.”
Sunday, matched against former World Series Most Valuable Player Orel Hershiser, the Mariners countered with Salomon Torres - whose last start lasted one inning, and who came in with a 5.80 earned-run average.
Walks, 26 of them in 35 innings, had plagued the 22-year-old right-hander in his first seven starts. This time, pitching like a man perched on an eggshell, Torres tried hard to be the pitcher Seattle has asked him to be.
“They want me to focus, to stay focused, and today I did that better,” he said. “When I’d lose focus, I’d get it back and go after the hitters.”
For all that focus, entering the fourth inning, Torres and the Mariners trailed the Indians, 1-0.
Against a pitcher he had never seen except on television, Jay Buhner relied on advance scouting. Tim Belcher, a former Dodgers teammate of Hershiser, promised Buhner that if he waited in any one at-bat, Hershiser would feed him a curveball.
“He said, ‘Sit on the curve, sit on the curve,’ ” Buhner said. “So the first at-bat, Hershiser got ahead with two fastballs and struck me out with a curve. My second atbat, I waited for that curveball.”
Buhner’s second at-bat came in the fourth inning with two teammates on base, and when Hershiser delivered that curve, Buhner hit it out for a three-run home run.
Torres responded by walking the first Cleveland batter he faced in the bottom of the inning on four pitches, then watching him work his way around the bases to score and make it a 3-2 game.
“He walked a couple of guys but overall he was more aggressive,” Piniella said. “He did his job today. He did what we asked of him.”
Alex Diaz and All-Star Edgar Martinez pushed home the runs that made it 5-2 in the fifth inning, and when Torres gave up a third run in the sixth, he left the game with a tworun lead against a team notorious for devouring those.
Twenty-one times the Indians had come from behind to win games - 12 times doing so in their last at-bat.
Tino Martinez took care of that threat.
Reliever Bud Black gave up a pair of oneout hits to Joey Cora and Diaz, then walked Edgar Martinez intentionally to set up a lefthander vs. left-hander at-bat against Tino Martinez.
“That’s the move you’ve got to make, it didn’t pump me up,” Martinez said. “What pumped me up was getting up there with the bases loaded.”
Black threw a slider that Martinez just missed, and Martinez guessed he wouldn’t throw another. Looking for a fastball, he got one and took it over the fence in right field for the second grand slam of his career.
“My God, what a first half Tino’s had for us,” Piniella said. “He’s hitting right at .300, 18 home runs, 58 RBI … he’s just really picked his game up.”
“Opportunities,” Martinez explained. “Since (Ken Griffey) Junior went down, I’ve moved up in the batting order, and every time I come to the plate, somebody is on base.”
Though Buhner and Martinez are hot, both want the three-day break that begins today.
“Since I’ve come off the disabled list (June 21), I’ve been sore everywhere you can be sore,” Buhner said. “I told Sandy Alomar the other day, ‘Watch, I’ll get hot and then we’ll stop playing.’ That’s what has happened, but I need the break.”
“I’m not going to lose my swing in three days,” Martinez said. “This win doesn’t make up for what happened in Detroit. We’ve just got to come back next week and pick it up. We expect more of ourselves.”
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