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Basic Baseball Gets Past Mariners

John Blanchette Staff Writer

They couldn’t hit a thing all series, but the Seattle Mariners certainly gave fundamental baseball a beating on Tuesday night.

“You’ve got to score runs to win,” said catcher Dan Wilson, who went hitless in 16 at bats as the M’s lost the American League Championship Series four games to two to the Cleveland Indians, “but we didn’t do the things tonight that would have given us a chance to win.”

Other than pitch, that is.

Randy Johnson, looking a few mph slower and spent from pitching on the edge for three weeks now, gutted his way through 7-plus innings and allowed just one big hit - Carlos Baerga’s solo home run in the eighth inning.

But by that time, the M’s had lost the game in smaller ways.

Episode one

In the third, Luis Sojo leads off with a double. Wilson, needing to move Sojo to third where he could score on a fly ball, instead grounds out to shortstop Omar Vizquel, who holds the runner. Two more ground balls end the inning.

Episode two

In Cleveland’s fifth, second baseman Joey Cora makes a spectacular leaping catch of Herbert Perry’s line drive headed for the gap. But on the next pitch, Alvaro Espinoza’s routine ground ball, Cora throws behind Johnson covering the bag for an error. Tony Pena flies out, but Kenny Lofton nicks Johnson for a single to drive Espinoza home from second.

Episode three

After Vince Coleman’s leadoff single and stolen base in the sixth, Cora pops up trying to bunt. Ken Griffey Jr. follows with deep fly that would have tied the game, but instead merely moves Coleman to third. Tino Martinez fans to end the inning.

Episode four

With runners on second and third in the eighth, Wilson lets a fastball up and away to Vizquel get by him to the corner of the Indians’ dugout. Not only does Pena score from third, but Lofton catches Wilson loafing back to the ball and scores all the way from second.

“It was just a ball I should have caught that didn’t stick in the glove,” Wilson said. “Then I made the mental error of not getting back after it strong. Physical errors you can live with more than mental errors.

“No doubt about it, you’ve got Randy on the mound and Dennis Martinez for them, so one or two runs is going to win a game like this. So you’ve got to do the fundamental things to score one run, or to stop one.”

No one in the Cleveland dugout was underestimating the impact of Lofton’s play, which not only turned a 2-0 game into 3-0 but rocked Seattle’s confidence.

“I was kind of like everybody else and didn’t realize he was doing it until I looked at home plate and he was starting to slide,” said Tribe manager Mike Hargrove. “There were a lot of big plays and big pitches by both clubs in that game. But probably Kenny scoring from second base on that play was the biggest in that it really did seem to take the wind out of their sails and pump us up.

“I thought it was the determining factor in the game.”

A textbook moment

For the series MVP, Games 2 and 5 winner Orel Hershiser, the defining moment of Indians pitching came in the sixth inning, when the Mariners had runners on second and third with Tino Martinez at the plate in a 1-0 game.

“He (Dennis Martinez) threw the ball hard and away from him early in the count, set him up with some other things inside,” Hershiser said. “And when it came down to the game pitch, he went away - looking like those hard pitches away - and threw him a changeup. It had the exact ball flight and pattern of his fastball, but 10 mph slower.”

And on a 2-2 count, Tino struck out.

Hitless parade

Until the Indians came to town, the hits just kept coming for the Mariners. In the five-game Division Series against New York, the M’s rapped out 63 hits and scored 35 runs. In six games against Cleveland, Seattle managed just 37 hits and 12 runs.

“They know how to pitch,” said Coleman, who finished with an ALCS batting average of .100 - one of five Seattle regulars under the .200 mark. “Even when they get behind in the count, they can come with off-speed pitches and throw them for strikes.

“They’ve been effective all year long. We’re not the first team they’ve shut down. They shut down the entire league. But the key to beating us is, if you keep me off the bases, you’re able to pitch around the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters. If those guys aren’t seeing a lot of fastballs, it makes it tougher to hit.”

The biggest flop at the plate, of course, was A.L. batting champ Edgar Martinez, who didn’t get a solid base hit in the series until he slapped a Dennis Martinez offering into center field in the fourth inning of Game 6. He finished with an ALCS average of .087 - nearly 500 points under his average against New York.

“We tried to jam him,” said Dennis Martinez. “We did not want to pitch him outside so he could extend his arms.”

The pest

The toughest out for Seattle all series was Lofton, the Tribe’s leadoff hitter who wound up with a .458 average - 11 hits in 24 at bats.

His fifth inning single broke a scoreless tie, and he also touched Johnson for an RBI single in Game 3. That one made him the first left-handed batter to drive in a run off Johnson since Aug. 1, when Jim Edmonds and Greg Myers did it for California.

Making a molehill out of a mound

The Indians took issue with the height of the Kingdome’s pitching mound before Tuesday’s game - figuring, apparently, that Randy Johnson looked 7-feet tall up there instead of just 6-10.

Marty Springstead, the executive director of umpiring for the American League, measured the mound with the Kingdome grounds crew and had a half-inch shaved off it all the way around. The rubber was not adjusted.

Fashion statement

Jay Buhner dates the start of Seattle’s surge to the A.L. West championship and the ensuing playoff run to Aug. 24 - the day Griffey Jr. blasted a two-run homer off New York’s John Wetteland in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Yankees 9-7.

Never mind that the M’s were wearing their dreaded teal uniforms that day.

“No way we’re playing in those softball uniforms (again),” Buhner said before Game 6. “Not only are the uniforms tired, but look at those hats. You won’t see us wearing those anytime soon.”

He must have been talking about next year.

The real Mr. Snappy

Former Mariners outfielder Dave Henderson, who operates a baseball facility in Bellevue, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. He sailed it a good 10 feet over catcher Chris Widger’s head all the way to the backstop.

Golden oldie

Dennis Martinez, at the age of 40, became the oldest pitcher to win a League Championship Series game. Tommy John was 39 when he won Game 1 of the 1982 ALCS, and Dick Hall was 39 when he beat Minnesota in relief in Game 1 of the 1969 ALCS. Rick Reuschel of the Giants won Game 5 of the NLCS in 1989 at the age of 40, but was two days younger at the time than Martinez was Tuesday night.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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